Federal Indigenous services minister meets First Nation at rail blockade
Published Saturday, February 15, 2020 8:39AM EST Last Updated Saturday, February 15, 2020 8:43PM EST
TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY, ONT. -- The federal Indigenous services minister held meetings Saturday with representatives of the Mohawk Nation to discuss a rail blockade that has shut down rail services across Eastern Canada.
Marc Miller didn't want to predict the outcome of his meetings, saying dialogue between the two sides is needed as members of the Mohawk Nation block the line in support of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en in their opposition to a natural gas pipeline across their traditional territory in northern British Columbia.
"This is a situation that is very tense, very volatile, there are some people that have been standing out there for days, so today is a chance to talk and have a real discussion," he said.
"We're a nation of people who have stopped talking to each other. We tweet, we make statements on Facebook, we go around asking, condemning, but we're not talking."
He met with protesters at the blockade before travelling further into the First Nation for a private meeting, which was still going Saturday evening.
The blockade on Tyendinaga Mohawk territory near Belleville, Ont., was in its 10th day on Saturday.
Miller requested the meeting to "polish the silver covenant chain," which the Mohawks say refers to one of the original agreements between the First Nation and the Crown.
Similar blockades across the country have cut both passenger and freight rail services, with pressure mounting on the federal government to end them. A protest at Canadian National Railway's McMillan Yard just north of Toronto and another on a rail line in east Vancouver on Saturday were among those affecting train services.
As he arrived in Tyendinaga, Miller said the blockades have been divisive.
"All of Canada is hurting," he added. "The economy is slowing down. Everyone knows the reports about supply shortages, but we can't move forward without dialogue."
He also acknowledged that First Nations have felt alienated in Canada.
"I can't guarantee what the outcome will be. It isn't mine to judge," the minister said. "And so I'm here to discuss in peace and friendship with a bunch of people that haven't felt part of this country."
CN obtained a court injunction to end the demonstration on Feb. 7, but the Ontario Provincial Police have not enforced it.
An injunction in B.C. was enforced earlier this month by the RCMP to give Coastal GasLink access to a work site for the pipeline, which is part of a $40-billion LNG Canada export project in Kitimat.
Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route. However, Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs assert title to a vast 22,000-square-kilometre area and say band councils only have authority over reserve lands.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney maintained his criticism of the protests.
"Fascinating to see champions of wokeness suddenly embrace hereditary patriarchy as a preferred governance model," he tweeted.
A growing number of business leaders and industry groups called for government or police intervention in the shutdowns.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected a suggestion from federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to have the public safety minister use his authority under the RCMP Act to end what he called the "illegal blockades."
Trudeau said the dispute must be resolved through dialogue, while acknowledging the blockades have caused disruption for travellers and businesses.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2020.