Native fight over mining goes beyond treaty rights

 

Native fight over mining goes beyond treaty rights

 

Stephen Scharper

Special to The Star

Copyright (c) 2008 The Toronto Star

 

"Politicians, guided by the power of the privileged class, promise that the dream of perpetual affluence is still possible. It is not. For millions of human beings, impoverished and separated from their indigenous relationship with the land, the proof is clear: Development as defined by colonial nations of this world is merely theft and murder and when we bring it on ourselves, it is suicide."

 

So wrote an imprisoned but impassioned Bob Lovelace, former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, who was freed last month after protesting mining on traditional Ardoch lands.

 

"If you go camping often or spend time in the woods," Lovelace continues, "you know we live in a very quiet world, a world of murmurs."

 

Yet many of us in North America have become "autistic" to the natural world and have to re-attune ourselves to the whisperings of non-human nature, notes "geologian" Thomas Berry.

 

"What it means to be human comes out of the environment," Lovelace observes.

 

"When you look at a map of Europe," he notes in an interview, "you don't see a square all cut up." Instead, national boundaries are often formed around ecosystems, as was the case with pre-contact maps of North and South America. We have to recapture a sense of our rootedness in our lands and waters in order to be healthy as a species.

 

Lovelace, who teaches aboriginal studies at Queen's University, warns that if we neglect our eco-systems, the results will be "cataclysmic."

 

Signs of cataclysm are already visible through increased natural disasters such as- earthquakes, tsunamis, and typhoons.

 

It was this understanding of the interrelationship of humans with nature that in part prompted Lovelace and six members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) to take a stand against uranium drilling in their homelands by Frontenac Ventures Corporation.

 

Last February, Lovelace was sentenced to six months in jail for his protest. He challenged the Ontario Mining Act of 1873, which stipulates that anyone 18 or older can obtain a prospector's licence and stake mineral claims throughout the province. Lovelace, declaring that the act provided no protection for aboriginal lands, sought to reveal the "colonialism" that accompanied access to resources on native land.

 

Lovelace has been buoyed by support from religious leaders across the province. Such support dovetails nicely with what Lovelace calls "transactional democracy," which begins with grassroots environmental concerns and awareness, involving people "in their kitchens" and not just in provincial or federal legislatures.

 

As this incident reveals, our mainstream approach to land use is still overwhelmingly marked by exploitation for economic gain. Lovelace is forcing us to confront the baleful legacy of a land that is proving devastating to the planet's climate, leaving vast swaths of our ecosystems, as well as impoverished children, as veritable road kill.

 

Lovelace's cause concerns not only aboriginal rights, but also changing entrenched laws that perpetrate outdated values. They open up not only a path to new legislation, but to new land ethics as we confront the ecological and social challenges of the 21st century.

 

Stephen Scharper is co-author of The Green Bible. stephen.scharper @ utoronto.ca.