Credits: TARA JEFFREY/THE OBSERVER/QMI AGENCY
MARYSVILLE, ON - Mohawk protesters blocked the Canadian National rail line on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory east of Belleville as part of the Idle No More national protest for better federal treatment of First Nations.
Protester Niki Storms of Tyendinaga said the protest began at about 4 p.m. Saturday. It was the second such protest in less than a week; a brief blockade occurred peacefully Dec. 30.
The group blocked the rail crossing at Wyman Rd. south of Hwy. 401 just west of Deseronto.
“We have the world's attention,” Tyendinaga's Dan Doreen said of the Idle No More movement. “We have the world's support.
“This country and the government of Canada need to put indigenous people across this country within the rightful place in society,” he said.
He and Storms would not say how many protesters were involved – vehicles and people arrived and departed periodically – but around 25 could be seen during the first few hours.
With five border crossings, bridges rail lines blocked in several places across the country Saturday, he said, First Nations chiefs will have more support when they meet Jan. 11 with federal officials.
“They can go in with a position of power instead of a position of pity,” said Doreen.
Via Rail spokesman Jacques Gagnon said passengers would have to board buses between the Belleville Via station and trains waiting on the blockade's east side.
East Region OPP Sgt. Kristine Rae reported at 8:30 p.m. there had been no problems related to the protest.
“It is a peaceful demonstration at this point and hopefully it'll be resolved sooner than later,” Rae said, adding there were “several” officers present.
Doreen said the chances of confrontation rested in the hands of police.
“We've never gone out there and advocated violence but we know how to defend ourselves and we will defend ourselves,” he said.
Doreen said the protest was “open-ended,” with no end date or time set.
He said Canada's First Nations “have had enough” of what he called ill treatment by government.
“We're tired of this foreign government imposing their laws,” added Storms.
Though Doreen acknowledged he was “not very hopeful” non-natives were unlikely to sympathize with First Nations as a result of the protests, he said he hoped the Idle No More action would improve life for indigenous peoples.
He dismissed the inconvenience the rail disruption caused passengers and others.
“Try being inconvenienced for 500 years,” he said.
Rallies and protests took place at numerous border crossings and bridges from Nova Scotia to British Columbia on Saturday. The protests delayed and disrupted traffic but were peaceful.
The bridges connecting Canada and the U.S. to Cornwall Island were closed for more than three hours during a march – which started in Massena, N.Y.
“We want to wake everyone up,” said Jose Verdugo, one of the organizers of Cornwall’s protest.
The Idle No More campaign is aimed at stopping Bill C-45, the Harper government’s omnibus budget bill, which includes amendments that First Nations officials fear would allow private developers greater access to reserve lands.
“They’ll take our natural resources,” said Verdugo. “...Our job as First Nations is to wake up first. We were put here to protect the land, the water. We were put here ... to protect Mother Earth.”
Hundreds of people took part in the protest near Cornwall, joining nearby Akwesasne.
A similar event took place near Sarnia, Ont., where hundreds took part in a rally at the Blue Water bridge in Point Edward.
I am here today, standing to show unity within my people and to do a peaceful rally,” said organizer Jennifer George. “To raise awareness of what's happening in our country.”
Demonstrators, including community members from Aamjiwnaang, Walpole Island and Kettle and Stony Point, were on hand bearing flags and signs as they chanted “Idle no More.”
With files from Cheryl Brink and Tara Jeffrey