“They are taking away our treaty rights, our schooling all of the things that they signed for,” Rosalie Chum, 35, said when asked what she made the 15-hour trek. “We share our land with everyone and they are taking away our rights.”
Chief Gordon Peters of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians has called for blockades of major transportation corridors throughout Ontario because Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused last week to sit down with all of the chiefs who wanted to talk to him about treaty rights and other concerns.
CN rail spokesman Jim Feeny said mid-morning Wednesday that they had seen no disruptions but were keeping a close eye on the entire network. The railway has previously sought injunctions to end blockades but Mr. Feeny would not say what actions they will take if protesters stop the trains.
About 100 protesters gathered outside the Northern Gateway hearings in Vancouver as part of the protests.
Organizer Frank Brown, a member of the Heiltsuk (helts-uk) First Nation near Bella Bella, says the Idle No More movement in B.C. is aimed largely at oil pipelines.
He says B.C. First Nations don’t want handouts from oil companies and they’ll do whatever it takes to protect the land for future generations.
Meanwhile, about 200 First Nations protesters took part in a 45-minute blockade of the Pat Bay Highway north of Victoria.
Members of the Tsawout (say-out) band chanted slogans like “honour the Douglas Treaty” and “All Canadians should be concerned.”
A group calling itself the “Gitxsan Warriors” is also blocking the CN Rail line through Kitwanga, in northwest B-C today.
Mr. Peters has been cryptic about exactly where blockades might occur – taking a "just watch us” approach.
He says he expects supporters of the grassroots protest group Idle No More to be the foot soldiers of the disruptions. At least one Idle No More organizer has said she opposes blockades and the group has occasionally been critical of first nations leadership. But it is a loosely constructed movement fuelled by the energy of native youth who may well heed Mr. Peters’ call to action.
On the other hand, even Mr. Peters says he recognizes that protests such as those Wednesday risk alienating the broader population of Canada who the first nations are counting upon for support as they press for a greater share of resource revenues and increased dialogue with the government. He and other first nations leaders have said they want all demonstrations to be respectful and non-violent.
In a video statement posted online Tuesday, Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Chris Lewis urged restraint by those officers handling protests.
“Whether we like it or not, the first nations people of Ontario have long-time disputes with government and we cannot solve those issues as a police service, he said. “As well, first nations have the ability to paralyze this country, by shutting down travel and trade routes. It is a difficult situation no matter how we view or address it. In policing these events we will be criticized, sometimes from all sides. Our response at all times needs to be measured, professional and sensitive. I’d rather be criticized for a decision to not jeopardize, take or lose lives, than for taking unnecessary aggressive action that undoubtedly will.”
He also shot back at critics who have questioned seeming police inaction in the face of militancy, even when the officers had been instructed by court order to end protests, saying that their strategies are “difficult and complex to explain to the general public.”
“The overall objective of the OPP is to work with all parties to ensure public and officer safety and to maintain orderly conduct and peace. This isn’t us not doing our jobs, as some would have it, but in fact, it is our job,” Commissioner Lewis said. “There may be situations requiring our immediate enforcement action, and we will at times do so. But otherwise, we will continue to investigate these incidents and we’ll lay charges after the event where appropriate.”
Regional chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) say they have struck crisis management teams to ensure that conflicts created by demonstrators do not get out of hand.