Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
Protecting Mother Earth
by Helen Forsey
A year ago last November, when my friend Gloria Morrison and I walked back through the woods and took pictures of the stakes marking the uranium claim on their land, we knew this thing was way, way bigger than the damage we could see. |
We already knew that uranium is not just another mineral to be gouged out of the Earth for profit, outrageous though that is on its own. And we have learned so much more over the months since then, about how the tentacles of the uranium issue reach into every imaginable aspect of our lives and the lives of future generations.
As others will be making clear throughout these hearings, these uranium-related issues are as far-reaching as any of the mega-problems currently threatening this planet. In fact, uranium could be said to be linked to - even to epitomize - those very mega-problems. The issues around global warming, pollution, public health, racism, patriarchy, violence and war, energy, water, runaway technology, economic survival, limits to growth, human rights, and the very possibility of a livable future on this Earth - all these and more are tied in with the controversies surrounding uranium1.
This is what pulled me out of the immobility of grief over my son’s death two years ago from cancer, and placed me by the roadside at Robertsville through much of last fall and winter, until we were forced from the Site on the afternoon of February 15th.
Those months at the protest camp were a profound experience for all of us who spent time there. What we learned about uranium and its radioactive “daughter” elements, about the mining and exploration industries and the power they wield, bore out our intuitive knowledge that this is - literally - deadly serious business2. What we as settlers learned from and about our Algonquin neighbours, their Aboriginal rights and their courageous commitment to non-violently protecting Mother Earth and Water3, inspired and fortified us in our own determination to do the same.
For me, one of the most powerful aspects of that time at the Site was the simplicity it imposed on our lives. In the absence of the “modern conveniences” that we tend to take for granted, the protest camp obliged us to go back to basics. In the process, we learned - or remembered - a great deal about “what it takes to live”, both to meet our daily physical needs like food, water, and shelter, and to meet the equally vital demands of community, the need to work together and support each other across our many differences and difficulties, for the sake of our common cause.
What does all this have to do with uranium? Everything. Let me take up the question at some of the many levels where the issues are intertwined.
One of the most obvious linkages is around energy. The Powers that Be tell us we “need” uranium to provide the energy to support the lifestyles we’ve become accustomed to. Well, at the Site we were disconnected from the electrical grid and its nuclear power sources. When we had any electricity at all, it came from a portable generator that needed constant care and attention in order to keep working, while gobbling up expensive fossil fuel that had to be bought with scarce funds and hauled to the Site. Living with that noisy and unreliable beast made us painfully aware of every kilowatt of electricity we used, and also made us increasingly creative about doing without.
So when the cold weather came and we moved the protest outside the gate, we were ready for the candlelight and wood heat of Harold’s cabin and the big Trailer. Not that we were purists. The candle wax and lamp oil came from fossil fuels, as did the propane that we did most of our cooking with. For drinking and washing we were dependent on our wonderful neighbours, who drew water for us from their well and delivered it with their pick-up truck. And thanks to battery technology, we could listen occasionally to music tapes or tune in to a radio news broadcast.
But we were living a different way. Doing without our usual toys and conveniences, even briefly, forced us to be more in touch with the Earth’s reality, the natural limits of our own powers and resources. When you have to go outdoors to use the portable toilet - maybe literally shovelling your way there - you know exactly what the weather is doing hour by hour. When your only thermostat is your own skin and you’re dependent on donated firewood that you chop and stack yourself, you realize what it takes to stay warm at 20 below. When nuclear power from Darlington doesn’t run your refrigerator, you learn to use winter’s gifts of ice and snow to keep your food fresh.
What we experienced there at the protest site wasn’t hardship - it was just life, and it was truly rich. We were living an alternative, modest and limited though it was, rediscovering bits and pieces of what our Aboriginal and settler ancestors already knew about how to live, here in this rocky, beautiful northern home of ours. And it was all so utterly appropriate - the means of our protest so congruent with its ends. In our own small way we were proving that we don’t need what the mainstream insists is necessary - the easy push-button comforts and conveniences that they say we “need” uranium for.
The physical aspects of living at the protest Site were matched by demands of another sort - the exigencies of community, of cooperation across differences and under stressful conditions. We were a fluid and largely unstructured assemblage of very different people, brought together by the over-arching urgency of saying a firm non-violent “No!” to uranium development. We were women and men, Aboriginals and settlers, some youngsters and lots of grandparents, seasoned activists and people who had never protested before. We came with very different histories, different political and religious beliefs, different personal styles - and a few of us could barely stand each other. Yet we managed, repeatedly, to set our differences aside and work together when it really counted. Because uranium is no respecter of such differences. Whatever our personalities, whatever our backgrounds or beliefs, uranium threatens us all.
Sitting round the fire with our Algonquin friends, we listened to stories that sparkled with the humour and wisdom of a culture that honours the Earth and all of creation. And the discussions! The camp functioned as a sort of ongoing workshop where we debated protest strategies, pored over maps and court orders, shared information on nuclear power, or followed up from the latest Site meeting. The protest camp was a crucible for developing and refining the understandings we need to guide us in this continuing struggle.
One key understanding is that the whole uranium industry is inherently violent. Once uranium is disturbed from where it lies in the earth, it unleashes a vicious cascade of consequences which cause untold harm to human beings, other creatures, and the surrounding environment, the damage surging outward from mine and mill to devastate lives through pollution and war for hundreds of generations to come4. Because of the deadly nature of the element itself, there is simply no such thing as non-violent uranium development.
And it goes beyond that. Uranium exploitation is a logical consequence of an age-old mentality of domination in which the Earth and its animals and trees and rivers and rocks - and its people - are there merely to be exploited by whoever has the power to do so.
This “power-over” mentality takes many forms. We see it in top-down government structures that ignore the demands and the well-being of their own people in order to serve the moneyed interests they represent5. We see it in a judicial system which insists there is only one law - that of the White Man - and imprisons anyone who dares to invoke higher principles6. We see it in the banal violence of a patriarchal society where pornography is acceptable as long as the people being abused are female and over sixteen, where defenceless animals are routinely tortured in the name of “science”, where kids learn to kill for fun on the computer screen7. And we see it in the corporate capitalist system itself, the very essence of which is to maximize profits no matter what the human or environmental costs may be8.
So yes, I hold the stock market largely responsible for the outrageous wrongs being committed, here and elsewhere, in the name of uranium. There is more than one way to be violent. Like it or not, the stock market is a massive machine which by its very nature puts power and profit ahead of everything else. It takes the savings and pension plans of decent, well-meaning people and puts them at the service of organized greed. That is what lies behind the intransigence of governments that support and subsidize the mining and nuclear industries9. That is what is behind the ridiculous Mining Act and the vicious injunctions and the lies and manipulations that have caused such heartbreak and disruption and division in our community10.
We can’t win this struggle unless we recognize this chain of cause and effect. We urgently need to examine the roles we play in the whole domination scheme of things, to “connect the dots” and then shape our actions accordingly.
Our time at the Robertsville protest site gave us some of what we need to carry on this huge and continuing struggle. It reinforced our commitment to non-violence, making us all the more determined to reject the tools of the domination mentality that underlies everything we oppose. It gave us experience with a creative kind of communal anarchism, where each of us did what we saw needed to be done, working as much as possible with those we worked with best, and letting others do the same. Despite the toll the stress took on our health and on some of our human relationships, we learned many valuable lessons about coping with divisions and differences and cooperating in a common cause. Some of the strangest and strongest of friendships came to flourish in the fertile ground of the protest, and we experienced warmth, solidarity and even moments of joy that will stay with us forever.
As we bring those strengths to the continuing struggle, we remember that we too are children of the Earth, that we, too, are responsible for defending it. That means leaving the uranium in the ground, working against the domination mentality wherever it exists, strengthening our communities and honouring all our relations.
1. For more on why nuclear power will not solve global warming or the energy crisis, see Helen Caldicott’s book, “Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer” (The New Press, New York, 2006) and James Howard Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century” (Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2005). Caldicott, a medical doctor, also details the uranium cycle’s health and economic costs. For examples of the racism embedded in the industry, see and the NFB film “Uranium”, and Judy Pasternak’s November 2006 series in the Los Angeles Times on the nuclear devastation of Navajo communities (www.latimes.com). For in-depth examinations of the links with patriarchy and militarism, see Brian Easlea, “Fathering the Unthinkable: Masculinity, Scientists and the Nuclear Arms Race” (Pluto Press, London, 1983) and Joni Seager, “Earth Follies: Coming to Feminist Terms with the Global Environmental Crisis” (Routledge, New York, 1993).
2. Excellent sources of such information include www.ccamu.ca, www.ccnr.org, and www.miningwatch.ca
3. See www.shabotisstillhere.com, www.aafna.ca, and www.circleofallnations.ca
4. Half-lives of radioactive materials left in waste rock, tailings, spent fuel rods, and waste water from mines and nuclear facilities are tens of thousands of years. Depleted uranium routinely used in “conventional” weaponry leaves whole regions contaminated long after a given war is over.
5. The McGuinty government’s refusal to consider a moratorium on uranium development in Eastern Ontario in the face of municipal resolutions and massive public pressure is only one example.
6. In February 2008, the Ontario Superior Court punished Algonquin leaders with draconian conditions, jail time and fines, for upholding Algonquin law and defending the environment.
7. For more on the multiple connections between gender-based power domination-based science, and the exploitation of people, animals and the Earth, see the books by Brian Easlea and Joni Seager cited in Note 1 above, and Helen Forsey’s article in Alternatives Journal, Vol.19, No.3, 1993, "Back into the Quagmire - Linking Patriarchy and Planetary Destruction".
8. See the brilliant analysis in Chapter 7, “Corporations as Machines”, in Jerry Mander’s book, “In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations” (Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1991).
9. The nature and extent of provincial and federal financial support for the exploration and mining industries amounts to a little-known scandal. Governments actively encourage junior companies like Frontenac Ventures to mine the public purse by carrying out potentially damaging exploration activities, whether or not there is any real prospect of a mine. See “Looking Beneath the Surface: Assessing the Value of Public Support to the Canadian Metal Mining Industry”, and “Mining Investors and the Tax System”, on www.miningwatch.ca
10. Ontario’s Mining Act, and the injunctions issued under it, give mining and exploration companies free access to almost all land in the province, whether it is private property, public land, or First Nations territory.