It’s 5 pm on the south lawn of Queen’s Park. To my left people are scribbling protest signs. To my right the Raging Grannies are belting out a hot number. Straight ahead lies the staging ground of a showdown with government’s casual attitude to corporate marauding on native territory.
The rally tonight and Sovereignty Sleepover, as it’s called (though I prefer its more poetic monicker, the Gathering of Mother Earth Protectors) is hosted by a mind-boggling coalition of over 25 orgs, from the Canadian Labour Congress, Christian Peacemaker Teams and Canadian Federation of Students to OPSEU, OSSTF and the Wildlands League.
But despite all the orgs fronting, only about 250 people are here to show their support for the jailed members of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), the hunger-striking imprisoned Bob Lovelace of the Ardoch Algonquins and the Grassy Narrows Ojibway, who have walked over 1,700 kilometres for this pyjama party against mining and logging incursions.
Photo by Berge Arabian
In the looming shadow of the Romanesque Legislature building, folks fiddle with their camping gear among the teepees as someone strums a guitar. I can’t help thinking how cool it would be to pull out an air mattress and nod off in this improvised provincial park as cars rush frantically by on Queen’s Park Circle.
“We had to do this on the fly,” says co-chief Paula Sherman of the Ardoch Algonquins, who are resisting Frontenac Ventures’ uranium bid on traditional lands less than 150 kilometres south of Ottawa. She’s referring to the improvised arrangements for this protest, which is heavier on infrastructure than promotion. “Ontario was so negligent, not even consulting us and issuing mining permits for claims of 30,000 acres of land,” she says.Lovelace may be incarcerated, but his voice is free this evening, coming over the sound system pre-recorded from his cell at Lindsay’s Central East Correctional Centre.
“Colonialism is the great burden that is upon us all right now.” Resistance, he says, is not enough. “We need a renaissance of human spirit.”
Photo by Berge Arabian
Yes, it appears so – particularly if this movement is going to defeat the Ontario Mining Act, which dates back to 1873, when Queen Victoria was alive and prospectors didn’t have fleets of dump trucks and drills ready to tear up your backyard in search of uranium.
For $25.50 (no tax), under this act, I can buy a prospector’s licence allowing me to stake a claim (literally, four stakes) on land I think has minerals below it, be it Crown land, native land or your cottage retreat.
Of course, it would cost me another $20.40 (no tax) to stake the actual 16-hectare claim. Hell, I would pay that just to piss off a terrible neighbour.
Frank Morrison knows what that feels like. He’s not Aboriginal, but he’s had his land near Ompah, Ontario, staked by Frontenac.
“The major factor is the power the mining industry has. They can go unfettered onto your property. They can claim it without your knowledge. They can come back in 24 hours and plow down roadways to bring drilling equipment onto your property, and if they’re satisfied with core samples, they’ll come back and do strip exploration,” explains Morrison, who was arrested for protesting the incursions but says he wasn’t sentenced to jail because it would show how the issue went beyond native land claims.
Returning the next morning, I watch the proceedings through the haze of the smoky fire pit. It’s being tended by Chrissy Swain, part of the Kenora walkers contingent, who tells me about the effects Abitibi’s clear-?cutting is having on their small community of 800. Despite the downer description, she seems pretty up.
“This is all about getting young people to come together across Turtle Island,” she says, pointing out that 70 per cent of Grassy’s population is young.
Nearby, Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Phil Fontaine, definitely not dressed for camping, tells the media there’s a need for all governments to be involved in the land claims resolution process. “Any government absent at the table will result in further complication,” says Fontaine, referring to KI’s showdown against Platinex’s platinum operation.
NDP leader Howard Hampton tells me that despite the province’s claims of legal complexity, there is a way to snappily resolve the impasse. “All it would take is a letter from the minister of northern development and mines under Section 35 of the Mining Act to declare a moratorium on the land in dispute on the KI First Nation,” he says.
Behind Hampton, I notice sleeping bags strewn about on the lawn, as if people had bedded down under the stars instead of in tents. Odd, given the thunderstorm warnings.
David Sone of the Rainforest Action Network later confirms that Queen’s Park security didn’t allow tents to stay up after weeks of tacitly agreeing to allow the sleepover. Maybe someone in the Legislature was afraid that four tent pegs and a $25 licence would usurp Dalton McGuinty’s grassy front lawn.
Donnie Morris, KI chief jailed for protesting mines on lands north of Thunder Bay.
Fontaine, Grand Chief of Assembly of First Nations explains that all government must be present to achieve success with mining disputes.
Howard Hampton explains how easily the McGuinty government could put a stop the issues surrounding mining incursions.