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ABORIGINALS PLAN MARCH TO PROTEST PROPOSED URANIUM MINING IN EASTERN ONT

Canadian Press:

SHARBOT LAKE, Ont. (CP) - Aboriginal protesters occupying the site of a potential uranium mine in eastern Ontario are expecting hundreds to join their march Friday to voice growing concerns about exploration companies encroaching on traditional lands.

Members of the Shabot Obaadjiwan and Ardoch Algonquin First Nations aren't just worried about the potential health and environmental hazards of uranium mining, said Paula Sherman, a spokeswoman for the group and co-chief of the Ardoch Algonquin.

They're upset that government officials aren't consulting with native communities before allowing companies to take traditional lands, Sherman said.

Private mining firm Frontenac Ventures Corp. has mineral claims covering an area of about 60 square kilometres in Frontenac County, known for its dense forests, sparkling lakes and wetlands that attract recreational fishing and outdoor enthusiasts each summer.

The land lies about 80 kilometres north of Kingston, Ont., and is a mix of private and Crown land, part of which is the subject of negotiations between the Algonquins and the Ontario government.

A company could come in, excavate the uranium and contaminate the land, Sherman explained. But it can also leave once the damage is done.

"This is our homeland," she said. "We can't go anywhere else."

"Everything that we are as Algonquin peoples is based on this place, on this homeland. So if this homeland is contaminated, because we allowed it particularly, then what does that say about us?"

About 200 people have been blocking the entrance to the site and monitoring its perimeter since the blockade began June 28, one day before last month's national aboriginal day of action, Sherman said. The group doesn't plan to leave until there's a moratorium on uranium mining on their lands.

There are no weapons, drugs or alcohol permitted at the camp, its small trailers and tents parked near an old building for mining tremolite - a substance which is sometimes used as a fire retardant or in brake pads.

The protesters, which include members of other native communities, want to demonstrate peacefully but will defend themselves if attacked, she said.

Non-native residents in the area have also voiced their opposition to the project, some with makeshift signs along Highway 509 not far from the nearby town of Sharbot Lake, saying "No uranium mine" and "Radioactive death." It was a non- native couple living near the site who actually brought the matter to the Algonquin communities, said Sherman.

Sherman, who teaches aboriginal studies at Trent University, is a far cry from more militant native voices like Shawn Brant, who joined Mohawks in snarling highway traffic and shutting down the busy CN railway near Deseronto, Ont., near Kingston.

Another group of aboriginals near Caledonia, Ont., south of Hamilton, stopped construction of a housing development and have been occupying the 40-hectare site for about 18 months to protest another long-standing land-claim dispute.

The decision to blockade the potential mining site hasn't been an easy one. Sherman's cousin, Randy Cota, who shares co-chief responsibilities, is also an OPP officer and faced a great deal of pressure not to participate in a previous protest march, she said.

Neal Smitherman, Frontenac's lawyer, said the company was only planning to explore for uranium, activities which wouldn't have exacerbated what radioactivity may have already been present from drilling in years past. Skyrocketing uranium prices have since attracted more exploration in areas that were abandoned when the market collapsed in the 1970s.

While Frontenac is considering all its options, it's hopeful that it will be able to meet with the protesters and provincial officials next week to try to resolve the matter, Smitheman said.

But the province "seems to be ducking for cover" on the issue, said Christopher Reid, a Toronto lawyer the group retained on Monday. His calls to aboriginal affairs officials have yet to be returned, he said.

The group's march is expected to begin Friday at 7 p.m. EDT.

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