Aboriginal 'Day of Action' protests snarl traffic
Published Wednesday, January 16, 2013 8:34AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 16, 2013 9:48PM EST
Protestors taking part in an aboriginal “Day of Action” brought traffic to a standstill at locations across Canada Wednesday, as demonstrations blocked rail lines, bridges and roads in at least five provinces.
A Mohawk band formed a blockade along a major Ontario rail line Wednesday afternoon, forcing several passenger trains to halt along the route. The blockade was in the Tyendinaga Township between Belleville, Ont., and Kingston Ont., where CN and CP rail lines cross.
Trains along the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal route were halted and some passengers were transferred onto buses. By 8 p.m. ET, the blockade had cleared and service slowly resumed as CN Rail officials made sure that the tracks and signals were fully functional.
Demonstrations also blocked a CN rail line near Portage la Prairie, Man., on Wednesday morning. The two dozen protestors involved were letting local traffic through, but a CN freight train was blocked, reportedly backing up train traffic throughout Manitoba as a result.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters near Windsor, Ont., slowed down traffic during a mid-morning “Unity Walk” as the group marched down Highway 401 to the Ambassador Bridge. The group did not have plans to block traffic altogether at the busy Windsor-Detroit border crossing, but traffic in the region was significantly slowed down.
Blockades were also reported at the Mirimichi Bridge in New Brunswick and the QEII Highway in Alberta that heads into Edmonton.
One frustrated driver forced his way through the crowd on the QEII Highway as protesters shouted and tried to lean on his pick-up truck. No one was injured and the truck eventually continued on its way.
On Vancouver Island, protesters briefly blocked traffic on the Pat Bay Highway Wednesday morning. Leaders of the Saanich Peninsula First Nations spoke to a crowd of about 200 before dispersing.
The blockades are just a few of the dozens of demonstrations taking place coast to coast as Idle No More supporters once again take to the streets to mark an aboriginal day of action.
The Idle No More movement was sparked in early December and has only grown in size, as First Nations communities and supporters demand action from the federal government to improve the plight of Canada’s aboriginal people.
Earlier Wednesday, about 150 people banged drums, sang and carried placards as they walked from St. Mary’s First Nation through Frederiction to a rally outside the residence of New Brunswick Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas.
In downtown Toronto, a lunchtime rally was held outside the British Consulate on Bay Street, where protesters said they will continue to demand better conditions for aboriginal people and for changes to the federal government’s Bill C-45, an omnibus budget bill that First Nations says infringes on long-held aboriginal treaty rights.
“We’re protesting that bill because it erodes the rights of not just Aboriginal people but safe waters, safe land,” one demonstrator said, noting she was there with her family in support of Attawapiskat First Nation chief Theresa Spence, who has been on a liquids-only hunger strike since Dec. 11.
Though organizers stressed peaceful, non-disruptive rallies and demonstrations on this day of action, First Nations groups near Fort McMurray are calling for more serious action in the form of blockades to roads leading in and out of Alberta’s oilsands region.
Chief Allan Adam, of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, told CTV News Channel there are no plans to blockade Highway 63 in Alberta but that could change.
“Right now, we’re just buying (the government) some time, to wait for the House to reconvene on Jan. 28 to see what kind of announcements they make,” he said.
Adam said First Nations are trying to keep the protests peaceful and without disruption, but they can only do it for so long.
“You’ve got to remember, that the people started this movement, it wasn’t started by the chiefs or (Assembly of First Nations) and the leadership weren’t involved with this,” said Adam, of the Idle No More movement. “It even caught us off-guard and now we have to try to rectify this problem and correct it in every way possible.”
The Idle No More movement also continues to gain attention of supporters south of the border, where American-Indian activists held a rally Tuesday in New Mexico to show solidarity with First Nations demonstrators in Canada. The demonstration was held outside the New Mexico statehouse as a new legislative session began.