People’s History Project-Indigenous Rights and Struggles

Ardoch is a small hamlet in rural Ontario about 60 kilometers north of Kingston. Despite its size, Ardoch has been the site of two confrontations between First Nations, private enterprises and the Ontarian government. These events received notable attention in Kingston, and helped inform the public about the plight of non-status Algonquins in the Ottawa River Valley for the first time.

The first hostilities occurred in the summer of 1979 and became known as the “rice war.” By this time, Algonquin and Metis peoples had harvested wild rice in the area for over 200 years. Throughout Ontario on the other hand, there was a growing private interest in the potentially lucrative wild rice crops. In Ardoch, this private interest manifested itself in the form of the Lanark Wild Rice Company, which had been granted a licence to harvest the wild rice crop by the provincial government. Although Ardoch indigenous leaders such as Harold Perry and Robert Lovelace, won a court decision in 1980 against the company to protect the wild rice as an essential part of the livelihood of indigenous peoples, the company returned the next year. This was a result of the Minister of Natural Resources for the Ontario government ignoring the court’s ruling and restricting native ricing to a part of the lake while allowing Lanark to harvest the rest. Frustrated with the turn of events, indigenous and settlers alike in Ardoch banded together to prevent Lanark from putting boats on the water. This was accomplished by roadblocks set up by Algonquins against members of the OPP and the company, as well as local landowners refusing to allow their land to be used as a boat launch for the company. Further collaboration with the area’s roads supervisor, who had been struck by the incoming police cruisers, conveniently timed road work for the next day, not allowing any vehicles to approach the village. Eventually the police and Lanark never returned, and on this issue at least, First Nations and their settler allies managed a resolute victory for their continued way of living.

In 2007 a new confrontation arose as the indigenous peoples in the Ardoch were ideologically split on the issue of land claims. At this point there were now two groups claiming to represent the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, one faction allied with Randy Malcom as chief another led by Randy Cota and Bob Lovelace as co-chiefs. The split came partly as a result of negotiations with the provincial government over non status First Nations communities such as the Ardoch Algonquin and land claims to the Ottawa River Valley, known today as the Frontenac counties. Cota and Lovelace argue that Malcom overstepped his original mandate as negotiator to the land claims with the government, claiming himself to be chief elected by the entire membership of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. Several allegations ensured, but in the end the divisions remained set with Malcom’s faction, the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation seeking recognition through the lands claims process, while the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and Allies (AAFNA), led by Cota and Lovelace, standing resolutely outside the process. Ideologically, Cota and Lovelace’s stand from the land claims process in part, signifies their belief that no government should have the power to define who and who is not a qualified member of a First Nation, and furthermore institutionalize these definitions through formal contracts such as land claims processes.

It was also the AAFNA, who created the opposition for a prospective uranium mine in traditional Ardoch territory proposed by a private company, Frontenac Ventures Company (FVC).  This issue also gained traction in nearby Kingston and wider areas because of the controversial application of the government’s 19th century Mining Act by FVC, and environmental concerns over the nature of uranium mining. As stipulated in the Mining Act, FVC successfully staked a claim with the provincial government to the area underneath many settler and indigenous homes, and provided them with less than a month’s notice of excavation. Environmental groups like Mining Watch Canada joined the protest because of their concerns of the proposed open pit mine and potential pollution from tailing pond leakages in the groundwater and radon gas air pollution.  To prevent FVC from completing exploration of the site, the AAFNA prevented access to an old trimulite mine gate and manned it 24 hours a day for months. Quickly, FVC filed a lawsuit against the AAFNA suing for $77 million in damages.

While the court proceedings continued slowly, the AAFNA’s political stand became a hot button issue. Editorials were written in Kingston newspapers and pro-mining experts from Queen’s department of mining engineering weighed in. Most significantly the AAFNA’s land claims were recognized as legitimate by all the local candidates in the provincial elections, a critical break from the government’s past treatment of non-status First Nations communities. Although many settlers derided the AAFNA’s ‘radical’ tactics, it was these strategies which won the AAFNA more allies and brought increased awareness of Canada as the traditional homeland of indigenous peoples.

The end of the standoff brought mixed results for the Ardoch community. The AAFNA’s main leaders, spokesman Robert Lovelace and Chief Paula Sherman, were sentenced to six months in jail for ignoring the injunction placed on both the AAFNA and FVC by the Ontario court. However the court also ruled that the Ontario government were legally obliged to consult First Nations communities in advance of the granting of mining proposals. This lead to a formal revision of the Mining Act, although First Nations communities influence on mining negotiations with the Province, pales in comparison to that of the mining firms.  Eventually FVC was allowed to continue work on 22 of their mining claims with the Ontario government, while 17 claims on the most sensitive lands were rejected.

Robert Lovelace’s advocacy of indigenous rights also extended to Queen’s. From 1995 Lovelace has been an adjunct lecturer at Queen’s and has developed numerous courses and lectures on aboriginal education for various departments. Furthermore in 1996, Lovelace helped create the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre to provide academic and personal counselling to Aboriginal and non-aboriginal students, sustaining services for students and clubs such as the Aboriginal Resource Library and promoting aboriginal awareness within Queen’s.

Recently the Idle No More Movement was a vocal voice on campus, staging marches, teach-ins and film screenings. As well in June of 2013, the University announced an Indigenous Studies BA degree plan as a minor or general three year degree. This was also in conjunction with an increase of Aboriginal students in the University, which will only continue as the new program attracts new applicants.  Much of this progression of Aboriginal education and movements in Kingston and Queen’s is no small part due to Robert Lovelace. However as Lovelace himself states there is still a long and harsh struggle ahead of us, as we move towards the end of colonialism.

                       -with files from OPIRG Kingston’s Alternative Resource Library

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *