Idle No More protests target rail service, border crossings
Published Saturday, January 5, 2013 1:32PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, January 5, 2013 10:43PM EST
As Idle No More protests targeted border crossings across the country, a First Nations blockade once again halted rail service in Ontario.
The blockade was set up in Marysville, near Kingston, early Saturday evening and affected Via Rail passenger trains in both directions between Toronto and Montreal, and Toronto and Ottawa.
“There is no definitive timeline when the blockade will be lifted,” Via said Saturday evening in a statement. “Delays are to be expected.”
Via spokesperson Jacques Gagnon said four trains and more than 1,000 passengers were affected by the blockade on Saturday night.
About 20 buses were dispatched to pick up stranded passengers, Gagnon told CTV News Channel in a telephone interview.
The company said affected passengers were to be taken off the trains and transported by bus around the blockade.
The rail service disruption came on a day when Idle No More protests continued throughout Canada, and a day after Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to meet with First Nations leaders to discuss aboriginal treaties.
Police in Cornwall, Ont. closed the Seaway International Bridge to the United States early Saturday after thousands of protesters gathered at the border crossing, carrying flags and placards, and beating drums.
In a show of solidarity, demonstrators formed a circle, and replaced a flag at the entrance to the border crossing with their own.
Protesters said they are fighting for change and will continue to hold demonstrations until the federal government takes positive action on the rights of indigenous peoples.
“Everybody needs to come together and wake up now before it’s too late, and before there’s nothing left for our children,” said one protester.
The bridge reopened at about 3:30 p.m. local time.
The border crossing between Sarnia, Ont., and Port Huron, Mich., was also temporarily closed by a protest, as was part of Highway 403 in Hamilton, Ont.
Police in Napanee, Ont., issued a statement Saturday evening saying a rail line was being blocked by several people and that police were present. The blockade began at approximately 4:30 p.m.
Protests also took place at border crossings in Niagara Falls and Fort Erie, Ont., Surrey B.C. and at the Deh Cho Bridge in the North West Territories.
Meanwhile, both federal and aboriginal leaders are hoping the meeting planned with Harper for next week will mark the beginning of an ongoing dialogue with the government on issues including First Nation development and land treaty rights.
Harper’s meeting with Spence is ahead of the previously scheduled Jan. 24 gathering of the Assembly of First Nations. In a statement Friday, Harper said the Jan. 11 meeting will serve as a follow-up to the Crown-First Nations gathering a year ago, when the two sides discussed strengthening relations, governance, economic development and respecting treaties.
His announcement came on day 25 of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike. Spence has lived off liquids since Dec. 11 in an effort to help call attention to the broader Idle No More Movement, which has seen groups throughout Canada hold demonstrations in a bid to forge a new relationship between Ottawa and First Nations communities.
Spence said Friday she will continue her hunger strike until the meeting takes place.
NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents the northern Ontario riding which includes Attawapiskat, said he hopes the Jan. 11 meeting is the first of many.
“I see this first meeting as a sign of goodwill,” Angus told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “Out of that meeting there needs to be a plan…We have got to stop going from crisis to crisis, from Band-Aid solution to Band-Aid solution. There needs to a long-term solution.”
Angus calls the hunger strike and the demonstrations “unprecedented” and said the issue of infrastructure in First Nations communities should be a priority.
“There are a lot of issues out there,” he said. “The sense of where they need to go in terms of development in the communities, in terms of how negotiations are handled with the federal government with resource development.”
Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox said the main reason behind the protests was the passing of Bill C-45.
Protesters say First Nations lands and treaty rights are being infringed upon through the government’s contentious omnibus budget bill.
“This is something that many First Nations have always wanted to get the general public to understand,” said Fox.
“We never relinquished any of the resources. We never ceded any of the resources, the minerals, that was not part of the treaty.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May met with Spence on Friday and said her fast has been a catalyst in the Idle No More Movement.
“But it is just the beginning of turning a new page in the relationship between aboriginal Canadians, First Nations and all levels of non-indigenous government,” May said in a statement. “We have a long way to go to demonstrate respect for treaty rights and inherent indigenous rights under our Constitution and under international law.”
Both May and Angus also expressed concern for Spence’s health.
The Attawapiskat chief is surviving on fish broth and medicine teas for almost a month, and has appeared weak in her more recent public appearances.
“I think that she needs to step back a little bit at this point and get her health together and get the other people to step up and begin negotiations,” Angus said.
With a report from CTV Ottawa