Thursday, May 15, 2008

Algonquin Political Prisoner Begins Hunger Strike

This just in:

Ardoch Algonquin First Nation
May 15, 2008 - For Immediate Release

Jailed Algonquin Leader Begins Hunger Strike
Second Algonquin Chief Going to Jail - McGuinty Government Does Nothing

On February 15, 2008 Ardoch Algonquin First Nation (AAFN) Spokesperson Robert Lovelace was sentenced in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Kingston to 6 months in maximum security, plus crippling fines, for peacefully protesting uranium mining in the Ardoch homeland. Chief Paula Sherman was fined $15,000 and given until today to pay the fine, failing which she will be jailed.

On March 17, a Superior Court judge in Thunder Bay sentenced six leaders of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) to six months after they were found in contempt of court in dispute which is virtually identical to that of the Ardoch Algonquins.

The jailing of respected, law-abiding community leaders has had a devastating impact on our communities, particularly on the families of those incarcerated. The indifference shown by the McGuinty government towards the rights of First Nation communities and the imposition of long jail terms and crippling fines in the name of "the rule of law" has further eroded respect for both the legal system and the government of Ontario in the eyes of First Nations people in this province.

The cases of the KI Six and Robert Lovelace are strikingly similar. In both cases Ontario gave approvals to mining companies to conduct aggressive mineral exploration on land claimed by First Nations as their own. In both cases this approval was given without any consultation with affected communities, forcing the First Nations to take action to end the illegal exploration when the government refused to act. In both cases the mining company sought and obtained court injunctions to end the peaceful protests of the First Nations, while lawyers representing Ontario supported the mining industry's legal manoeuvres at every stage.

For the first month of Bob Lovelace's incarceration, the government of Ontario said nothing, remaining indifferent to this travesty. Since the jailing of the KI Six, and public outcry which followed, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Michael Bryant, has told the media that he has "bent over backwards" to try to resolve the disputes which led to the incarceration of seven First Nations leaders from our two communities. He also claims that he wishes to see the incarcerated communities leaders freed from jail.

We want to set the record straight.

In fact, there has been no response from Minister Bryant to any of our proposals for peacefully resolving the dispute. Minister Bryant's staff also has not responded to several calls and emails seeking a response to our proposals. To put it bluntly, Michael Bryant is a liar.

Bob Lovelace is now entering his fourth month in jail while the KI Six are about to begin their third month of incarceration. They are prisoners of conscience, jailed by the government of Ontario to send a message that the interests of the mining industry will trump Aboriginal rights and the environment of Ontario.

Lovelace, who turned 60 in jail, announced that he will begin a hunger strike tomorrow to press the government to respond to Ardoch's request for good faith negotiations. "I do not want my children and grandchildren to have to go through what we are going through" he said. "Starting tomorrow I will consume only water in the hopes that our cry for justice will be heard by Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Bryant."

Chief Paula Sherman said: "I will soon be going to jail because I cannot and will not pay this unjust fine. I am a single mother with three dependents whose only crime is the defense of our land. Like Bob Lovelace and the KI 6, I would rather go to jail than take food out of my children's mouths or let our land be destroyed ."

Acting Co-Chief Mireille Lapointe added "We are sickened by the hypocrisy of the McGuinty government. While honest, conscientious community leaders languish in their jails for peacefully protecting our land from uranium mining, all these politicians care about is their public image. They are lying when they say they are trying to resolve these disputes. They have done nothing at all and continue to show total indifference. They do not even respond to our letters, calls and emails asking for negotiations, meanwhile claiming they care about us and our land".

Ardoch and KI remain committed to resolving these disputes peacefully, through negotiations which lead to responsible, cooperative land use planning. We call on all citizens of Ontario to support the unconditional release of our leaders and negotiators by joining us at Queen's Park on May 26 at the Gathering of Mother Earth's Protectors.

For more information contact Paula Sherman: (613) 329-3707
Or Chris Reid, lawyer: (416) 629-3117



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