A woodpecker has spent the last two days assiduously pecking away at a hole in the siding just outside my study. He was making fine progress towards the insulation long ago pumped in through the tiny hole. Knowing his efforts were misdirected, and, irritated by the constant banging, I covered the hole with a metal plate. Silence and natural sanity reign again. I wonder how long before his belief that a siding-hole is a potential breeding ground has him back pecking? The radio broadcasts BBC news each hour. So I am well versed in the Pope’s visit to Brazil to prop up the church against loss of the faithful to evangelical movements that are not as strict about those dogma that have sustained the church for centuries. I also have heard long discussions about the decision to beatify the war-time pope, who some say collaborated with the Nazis; others say the war-time pope merely maintained a respectful silence. As the grandfather of Jewish grandchildren I am appalled. But that is religion and breeding for you; and the man is dead. In the Belle Plaine library I accessed, on an ancient computer, the news that the Dene declare the Thelon Basin to be a “birthplace, the place where God began.” And they defend their right to hunt and kill there “for if there are no caribou, we die.”
So I read on to see why they don’t want mines. It cannot possibly be the statement by the Golder representative that we know how to mine uranium without harming the environment—sorry, forgot about the Cigar Lake news clutter. And so I read and wrote down these two quotes from the Dene spokesman.
Irreparable harm may be caused [if we allow uranium exploration drilling]…we may loose land that is important from a cultural and spiritual perspective. No award of damages could possible compensate for this loss.
It is critical to consider the nature of the potential loss from an Aboriginal perspective: the relationship that the Aboriginal people have with the land cannot be understated: the land is the very essence of their being. It is their heart and soul. No amount of money can compensate for its loss. Aboriginal identity, spirituality, laws, traditions, culture, and right are connected to and often arise from this relationship to the land.
Sounds like one of the local farmers talking of his corn and soya bean fields and the profit from green energy, namely ethanol. Barack Obama in The Audacity of Hope says “Most people who serve in Washington have been trained as lawyers or as political operatives—professions that tend to place a premium on winning arguments rather than solving problems. I can see how, after a certain amount of time in the capital, it becomes tempting to assume that those who disagree with you have fundamentally different values—indeed, that they are motivated by bad faith, and perhaps are bad people.” Back to the news report on Canadian mining politics. I quote:
The area drained by the Thelon River, which flows from the N.W.T. into Nunavut, has been the subject of an intense staking rush in recent years. At least 40 companies are prodding the tundra for uranium after prices for the silvery metal grew from $7 a pound a few years ago to over $100 now. They have registered hundreds of prospecting permits, claims and mineral leases—1,000 such dispositions on the N.W.T. side alone. Nunavut has identified 405 prospecting permits that may conflict with ecological values. Some permits overlap proposed conservation areas or territorial parks.
The area is also subject to an agreement between Ottawa and the Akaitcho Dene not to make any decisions on the land for five years pending a land-claim settlement. That interim land withdrawal is currently awaiting cabinet approval. As well, part of the region has been singled out by Environment Minister John Baird for the creation of East Arm National Park near the east arm of Great Slave Lake.
Earlier this week, Lutsel K’e Chief Adeline Jonasson sent an open letter to all resource companies saying they shouldn’t bother asking about development on the Thelon because the Dene aren’t interested. "We are in complete opposition to having a mine in the Thelon area, and therefore will not support even the initial stages of such a possibility," she wrote. The board says Canada’s mining regulations contribute to the problem by allowing prospectors to stake claims before consulting area aboriginals, and then giving those claims precedence in any subsequent land talks.
As the quickening pace of northern industrial development runs head-on into land claims and environmental concerns, it’s time the federal government dealt with tough land-use questions, said Hummel. "As you delay more and more, mineral permits of one kind or another are being issued," he said. "It’s fragmenting and reducing the area the (Dene) said they wanted to protect."
I am not sure I understand the complexity of law and land ownership and claim title rights and politics….and religion, food, and breeding, as they affect the Dene and WASPs. I do not know what treaty rights are involved. I do not know how the local economy functions: is it tourism or is it federal handouts? How do the Dene heat their houses and fuel their cars? Are there local casinos as you would find in most similar areas of the United States? Is this as simple as a failure of the law to establish who owns the land? Is this as simple as the failure of leaders to live up to treaty agreements? Is this another instance of trying to give every religion an equal footing, and then let them fight it out over resources? (Been there; done that.) Or is this the adversarial system at its democratic best? Is this a failure of community relations, or a triumph of community activism? I submit that the mining industry, regardless of its religion, has the right to demand of leaders and politicians that they clarify the situation as fast as possible. It is a ridiculous spectacle to see exploration dollars and legal fees wasted trying to grab resources that seem to belong to a new philosophy every time you turn a new corner. This report reminds me of the uncertainty that swirls around every potential mine in every banana republic and most African nations. Surely Canadian miners and investors deserve better of their government, minority concern that it is. Canadian citizens, WASP, or Dene or other, deserve better. Or should we just break the federation into separate nations, French, Indian, Aboriginal, Vancouver (Island & City), etc. and let each control its borders and lands and worship its own gods, hunt and kill its own animals, and warm its homes from only local resources. Or build their own casinos. I see the Scots have voted to go it alone; they may yet beat Quebec in joining the United Nations. The woodpecker is back, gnawing around the metal, seeking a crack to his two-day-effort hole. It is his territory after all. And I deprived him of it for my own convenience and because I know what he was doing was stupid. The radio tells of the pope urging Brazilian teenagers to abstain. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is demanding greater control over “its” oil resources that have made the government rich, but left the region poor. My education and instinct are that there is an overriding principle that ties this all together. Is it that the British got it right with Victoria and Elizabeth, Blair and Brown, Darwin and Dawkins, and giving Hong Kong back to the Chinese? Or is this the cogito et credo: an individual will do whatever it needs to nest & breed; and a society plays any politics that it needs, including the politics of religion?