By Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Tensions mounted Monday in Mohawk communities near Montreal after Ontario Provincial Police moved in on a rail blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
Mohawks in Kanesatake, northwest of Montreal, blocked the highway running through their community, while in Kahnawake, to the south of the metropolis, protesters staged a rolling blockade that briefly halted traffic heading to a major bridge leading to Montreal.
Kenneth Deer, secretary of the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawake, said people in the community are upset with the OPP action to dismantle the blockade near Belleville, Ont. The blockade was in support of Wet’suwet’en traditional chiefs opposed to a British Columbia natural gas pipeline.
“We felt the OPP acted, I guess, irrationally,” Deer told reporters. He said negotiations in British Columbia with Wet’suwet’en chiefs meant it was possible the Ontario blockade could have come down voluntarily later in the day.
“We’re really, really upset that the OPP acted this way at this time. They could have waited another 12 hours, and this could have been avoided.’’
The Kahnawake Mohawk Council invited the community to a meeting Monday evening to discuss the response to the events in Ontario as well as the ongoing Kahnawake rail blockade in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
The Kahnawake Mohawk Council issued a statement Monday expressing “outrage and disgust” over police actions in Ontario as Wet’suwet’en chiefs were working towards an “imminent solution” with federal and B.C. provincial governments.
It warned that using injunctions and police against Indigenous people defending their own land “will not produce a peaceful resolve.” The council put the blame at the feet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his call Friday for the blockades to come down.
“The MCK feels strongly that today’s police actions would not have taken place had Prime Minister Trudeau not made his inflammatory statements on Friday, leaving no doubt about his planned course of action,” the statement read.
Some of the traditional chiefs oppose the project on their traditional territory in northern B.C. despite support from elected band councils along the pipeline route.
People behind a Kahnawake rail blockade that has disrupted freight and commuter rail service along a Canadian Pacific Railways line since Feb. 8 say it will remain until Wet’suwet’en chiefs are satisfied their conditions have been met.
Some of the hereditary chiefs visited Kahnawake this week before returning to B.C. on Sunday, reiterating they want RCMP off their lands and the pipeline project to halt.
The Kahnawake council said it is pushing “openness and dialogue over confrontation” as a way to resolve the matter.
Quebec’s Transport Department warned that Highway 344, which connects Kanesatake and neighbouring Oka, is closed in both directions. Quebec provincial police blocked access to the area and rerouted traffic.
Another blockade also remains along a small rail line in Listuguj, a Mi’kmaq community in eastern Quebec, about 525 kilometres northeast of Quebec City by the New Brunswick border.
On Friday night, protesters left a blockade in St-Lambert, Que., allowing for rail service to resume Monday on a commuter line connecting Montreal to Mont St-Hilaire.
Another blockade was taken down in L’Isle-Verte, Que., late Friday.