The power of no, By Judy Rebick, August 26, 2009

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Aug 27, 2009, 8:25:30 AM8/27/09
to The Frontenac Uranium Standoff
The power of no
By Judy Rebick
| August 26, 2009

“We have a choice. We still have fresh water, clean air, and forests.
We can still hunt and fish and trap and we will never give up the
right to protect our traditional lands and our traditional way of
life.” Sam McKay, KI spokesperson. Yesterday, we heard the tremendous
news that the First Nations led protest of Dump Site 41 to stop the
spoiling of a pristine watershed by a dump site had succeeded. The
Tiny Township City Council voted for a one year moratorium. Initiated
by a peaceful sit-in of women from the Beausoleil First Nation, the
protest grew to include many local townspeople, support of the Council
of Canadians and a growing chorus of environmentalists.

The same day, I found out that Platinex who was driven out of
prospecting aboriginal land last year by a magnificent struggle of the
KI leadership with the support of aboriginal and settler groups across
the province, was planning to go back on to KI land. They sent a
letter to KI that they would arrive on August 25 in a fly in only
area. To stop them, KI needed $1,000 to fly in, a lot of money for
this poor community. Now that Chief Donny Morris and the KI Council
have gone up to make sure Platinex can’t start prospecting, Platinex
announces that they will delay their trip a week “because of weather.”
Platinex has the money to fly in there whenever they like. The people
of KI have no such easy option.

No doubt Platinex is underestimating both the courage and
determination of the KI leadership and I hope their support. But
nevertheless after spending weeks in jail away from their families and
community, after winning a court battle and getting promises from the
Ontario government just last spring. Why should KI have to go through
it all again? It’s not about what’s fair or right. It’s about power
and money.

Last week end, at the Centre for Social Justice Retreat in Algonquin
Park, I participated in an all afternoon workshop, simulating a
negotiation between a First Nations group and the federal and
provincial government organized by Bob Lovelace. My nation was a poor
remote small First Nation trying to keep uranium mining off our land.
I was the chief negotiator. We all learned a lot through the
experience but for me the most powerful learning was what it felt like
to be in a negotiation with no power and a ruthless opponent who was
trying to buy me off under the cover of false kindness and co-
operation. Over and over again the woman pretending to be an Ontario
government representative told me she was looking out for the
interests of "all Ontarions" when really she was looking for out for
the interests of the corporation. I was so angry; it took me hours
to get over it. I’ve been in negotiations with government before but I
was representing women’s groups that had a lot more power and
resources than the native group I was pretending to represent. I acted
like I had power, because I’m used to that and as a result I screwed
up the whole thing.

First Nations are on the front line of protecting the environment from
further destruction and degredation by the forces of greed. Where they
are standing up to protect the earth, it is up to all us to stand with
them and share whatever access to power in solidarity just like at
Dump Site 41 and last spring when Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI)
and Ardoch successfully stopped prospecting on their land.

I was so moved by the people of KI, I wrote a chapter of my book about
their struggle last spring. Here is an excerpt:

“Seven First Nations leaders in two different communities were jailed
for refusing mining on their traditional lands. Bob Lovelace, a
university professor and retired chief of the Ardoch Algonquins,
located near Kingston, Ontario, along with Chief Donny Morris and his
five councillors from the remote northern community of
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), six hundred kilometres north of
Thunder Bay—known as the KI Six—were willing to give up their freedom
to take a stand for their people and the land they feel a
responsibility to protect. They opposed a powerful industry that
threatened them with massive lawsuits, a court that acted in the
interests of that industry, and a government that claimed neutrality
at the same time as actually supporting the mining companies…

While the jailing of indigenous activists is nothing new, this was the
first time that a chief-in-council, Donny Morris of KI, the official
leader of the community as recognized by the Indian Act, had been
jailed for following the laws protecting indigenous rights. The remote
community was left virtually without leadership.

The excuse given by the Ontario government was the archaic Mining Act,
which places the rights of industrial development over everything.
Mining companies are given automatic licence to explore wherever they
want without First Nations’ approval, without an environmental
assessment, and even without the permission of the owners of private

Unlike in many previous Aboriginal struggles, both KI and Ardoch
received a lot of local support in the media and from non-native
communities in Thunder Bay and Kingston respectively, but they
understood that to get their leaders out of jail, they needed to have
their issue raised in Toronto…

The first rally on April 9, 2008, was standing room only. Ovide
Mercredi and Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine
were the keynote speakers, but the audience was most moved by the
presentations of Ardoch Chief Paula Sherman and Chief Donny’s wife,
Anne Marie Morris, as well as by the phone call with the KI Six in
jail in Thunder Bay. Another moving moment of the rally was when a
native drummer from Sarnia told how his father had gone to visit KI
about twenty years before to warn them not to let the industrial
devastation that had happened to their land near Sarnia occur in the

As support was building, Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty made an
announcement that he would amend the Mining Act. But requests for a
moratorium on drilling so that the leaders could be released from jail
went unheeded. Realizing the power of the jailing of the KI Six, the
provincial government wanted them released, but the Six would only
leave jail if they were given assurances that there would be no more
drilling. This the government refused. So the KI Six remained in jail.
They also refused to go from Thunder Bay to Toronto for their appeal,
since the only option they were given was to go in shackles, and they
felt that was beneath their dignity. They would participate in their
appeal through video conferences.

Given the KI culture of face-to-face meetings and the central role I
was playing in organizing their support, I decided to go up to Thunder
Bay with Judy Finlay the week before the rally to meet them. In that
meeting in the jail, Chief Donny Morris said, “When you think of when
the settlers first came, they tried to slaughter us. Why? For the
mineral riches on our land like gold, and now it is happening again. I
have been thinking about what it means that non-Indians are organizing
all this support for us. I am thinking about that a lot here. I
haven’t seen this kind of thing in the past. It’s like all of you are
becoming Indians. The Canadian government tried to assimilate us for
generations and now it is the opposite that is happening. You are all
starting to think like us about the Earth.”

Then, as a sign that Platinex, the mining company, was feeling the
pressure, they agreed to stop drilling so that the KI Six could come
out of jail. In a bold move, their lawyer Chris Reid petitioned for
them to be released until the appeal, and they were. The KI Six could
attend the rally.

We also wanted as many people from KI and Grassy Narrows as possible
at both the rally and the appeal. Since it costs about one thousand
dollars per person to travel to Toronto from KI, that meant a lot of
fundraising. Most of the funds came from the unions and the
environmental groups that were involved. We raised more than fifty
thousand dollars in a couple of weeks to bring fifty community members
from KI, and another fifty from Grassy Narrows, for the rally and

The calm determination of Bob Lovelace and the KI Six, and the heroism
of their communities, which were totally traumatized by the loss of
their leaders and the attacks on their communities, inspired
extraordinarily broad support. The alliance between the indigenous
communities and outside supporters was unprecedented, both at the
local and provincial level.

In Ardoch, non-indigenous peoples were speaking out in defence of
Lovelace and raising money to support him and his community. In
Toronto, by the end of May, we had a network of students, unions,
churches, anti-poverty groups, international solidarity coalitions,
and, of course, environmental groups working full out. Not since the
1980s have I seen an issue into which every single individual and
organization put so much work and money.

The protest culminated in that mass rally at the provincial
legislature at Queen’s Park and the four-day sovereignty sleepover, at
which tepees and large tents were pitched on the grounds of the
provincial legislature. The seven leaders were permanently released
from prison for time served by the Court of Appeal after Lovelace had
served three months and the KI Six had served two months of what were
supposed to be sentences of six months for contempt of court. Their
final exoneration came on the third day of the sleepover and
represented a rare and important victory for indigenous peoples.

The integrity and courage of Bob Lovelace and the KI Six inspired
First Nations across the country to realize they can say “No” to any
development that is not in the interests of their communities or their
land, and helped to build the broadest coalition of supporters I have
seen in many years. This support influenced the Appeal Court decision
as well.

Sam McKay, the KI spokesperson, told a press conference on the Tuesday
of the four-day sleepover that he understood why southern First
Nations were negotiating with industry, because their water and lands
have already been destroyed. But, he argued, “We have a choice. We
still have fresh water, clean air, and forests. We can still hunt and
fish and trap and we will never give up the right to protect our
traditional lands and our traditional way of life.”
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