Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Citizens’ Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
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Structural Violence

by Joel Klassen, Rosemarie Milazzo & Christie Schmid
Christian Peacemaker Teams

We'd like to thank the organizing committee of the citizens' inquiry for making the inquiry happen. You have done an enormous amount of important work for the community, for Ontario and for Canada.

We thank the First Nations communities, the Shabot Obaadjiwan and the Ardoch Algonquin, for inviting our team here, and for providing leadership to the community endeavour to protect the land and to raise concerns about mining uranium. We recognize the relationship the First Nations have to the land and the sacrifices they are making due to their relationship with it.

We thank Rev. Patsy Henry of the United Church Centenary Pastoral Charge for her generous offer of hospitality to allow the team to stay in the manse here in town.

We recognize that all the sectors of this community, both First Nations and non-First Nations are bearing a particular weight because of the demand in our society for electricity and decisions by our government to pursue a nuclear strategy to meet the demand. We recognize the grace of this community in building strong alliances committed to nonviolence to deal with the prospect of a uranium mine. We recognize that some in the community support exploration for the mine. We have observed overall a commendable level of tolerance on the part of all the different parties in relation to those they disagree with.

Christian Peacemaker Teams places violence-reduction teams in crisis situations and militarized areas around the world at the invitation of local peace and human rights workers. CPT embraces the vision of unarmed intervention waged by committed peacemakers ready to risk injury and death in bold attempts to transform lethal conflict through the nonviolent power of the Creator's truth and love.

Here in Frontenac County, we are particularly concerned about the potential for violence against First Nations people in conflict with settler governments. Through our witnessing presence and our work to publicize what is happening here, we aim to reduce violence against First Nations.

Violence has many faces: a shot or a blow can kill. With just as much or more certainty, structural violence things just carrying on as they always have - can lead to death or curtailed life opportunities. We see that through the uranium mining cycle structural violence is striking hard against First Nations communities. Ontario's insistence on development of uranium resources is leading it to pervert justice and neglect its legal obligations to the Algonquins who claim the area as their traditional territory.

We believe that conflict can bring positive consequences to communities. When people have the courage and fortitude to bring a latent conflict into the open, situations of unfairness or injustice become evident and communities and societies can make changes that make everyone happier in the long run. We pray that this is happening in the conflict around the Robertsville uranium mine.

We know conflict brings hardship: people make sacrifices, relationships are strained, the community fabric can be stressed in ways that take time and dedication to repair. We wish to support the different sectors of this community as it engages in this conflict. We encourage people to listen to those with whom they have disagreements. By looking for ways to not let the strains become breaks, the community can strengthen itself.

Local conflicts often reflect larger conflicts that the society as a whole is living through. This is certainly the case here. The Ardoch Algonquin, Shabot Obaadjiwan, and the local settler communities, regardless of the positions taken, are living out in your lives the wider conflict between Canada and First Nations. As we have said, this has the potential for many positive consequences, which we are in fact seeing.

The alliance between First Nations and settler populations to resist the uranium mine has the makings of a small, but historic step of reconciliation among our peoples. For First Nations to have significant support from the settler community as they exercise their inherent rights is unusual.

Nevertheless, the conflict between the Canadian government and First Nations remains to be worked out. Non-aboriginal Canadians most often become aware of the conflict when issues around natural resources come to the fore, so it is not unusual that uranium mining is a focus.

The Algonquins are working to protect the land, holding that as a higher value both spiritually and economically than the economic value of a uranium mine. We have heard many Algonquin people speak of the land as a principal source of their identity and autonomy.

Canadian governments currently want to see more uranium mined, and more nuclear reactors built. In addition to meeting domestic demand for energy, they see money in the export of uranium and nuclear reactors, whether for energy or for military purposes. Much of the uranium produced in Canada has been used for military purposes, which CPT strongly objects to.

The Ontario government's Mining Act clearly favours the government's current agenda of facilitating mining. It is one source of the structural violence against First Nations. The act allows companies to enter land to stake claims and explore for minerals without consulting or even advising affected First Nations. Thus it allows situations to develop which are in violation of Supreme Court mandates that governments consult, accommodate and potentially seek consent of First Nations before engaging in development that can affect their interests. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines has not even devised a way to track aboriginal claims on particular pieces of land.

The Mining Act must be reformed. In the meantime, the Ontario government can make policy changes that ensure that consultation will take place as the Supreme Court has mandated. Instead of searching for ways to limit advances in First Nations rights, Ontario has the opportunity to take on an attitude of exploring how it can support First Nations in exercising their rights and responsibilities as first peoples of the land.

That the Ontario government instead of doing this has allowed the jailing of Bob Lovelace and six leaders of KI in northwestern Ontario in a similar mining related dispute is a shameful blot on Ontario's honour.

Colonial governments, both the Canadian, and the British before them, have had difficulty in seeing that First Nations have values that can weigh effectively against the value of economic gain from colonial control and exploitation of natural resources. Supreme Court decisions have provided some counter weight to this tendency.

First Nations are the first peoples of this land. They have an inherent right and title to it. First Nations values are at times contradictory to the values of extracting economic gain from the land. When differences emerge, it seems to pose a profound problem to colonial governments, that they tend to want to resolve by pretending the differences either don't exist or don't matter. Looking at the uranium mining cycle, and natural resource use more broadly, gives us the opportunity to sit with this problem, and creatively work at it.

We suggest that a way forward from where we are now is in a letting go of the need for control on the part of settler populations and settler governments. We suggest that a way forward lies in remembering with gratitude the attitude of welcome that First Nations have historically demonstrated and continue to demonstrate to newcomers. Canadians can imagine ourselves in a relationship of equals rather than in a relationship of a dominant and a subordinate people. We can, in fact, recognize and respect the at times superior knowledge that First Nations people have because of their long history on the land. This is the opportunity we have at this point in history: to remake the relationship between Canada and First Nations people on a nation-to-nation basis, a basis of equals, and in the process explore the possibility of a new and more respectful relationship with the land.

Canada can share decision-making over how the peoples who live here benefit from the riches of our land. If we do so we will become a much healthier society. Non-First Nations people will have learned how to view First Nations peoples as equals, gaining therefore our own dignity, and recognizing that of the First Nations. We will have turned away from violence and oppression as a way to order, or disorder, our relationship. We will have taken a large step toward the healing of the relationship among our peoples.