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Trains halted as standoff continues in Caledonia

Last Updated Fri, 21 Apr 2006 11:04:51 EDT
CBC News:

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. Mainstream media often presents biased and distorted information, lacking pertinent facts and/or context. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

A standoff between native protesters and police at a construction site in Southwestern Ontario spawned a sympathy demonstration that stopped rail traffic on Friday.

Talks to defuse the dispute in Caledonia, about 90 kilometres southwest of Toronto, were expected Friday, but no details about when or where have been released.

Mohawks from a reserve in eastern Ontario disrupted train traffic, stopping at least a dozen freight trains and disrupting Via Rail passenger service.

The protesters, from the Tyendinaga reserve about 20 kilometres east of Belleville, Ont., lit bonfires beside a CN track.

A CN Rail spokesperson said that at least 12 freight trains were waiting to get through and the company was trying to get a court injunction to end the protest and allow the trains to get moving.

Via Rail, meanwhile, said trains operating between Toronto and Kingston were being replaced by buses, which would make all regularly scheduled stops along the way.

The demonstration comes after the tensions ratcheted up at a native protest near Hamilton.

In the pre-dawn hours on Thursday, Ontario Provincial Police moved in to remove native protesters from the disputed tract of land they had been occupying since late February.

They arrested 16, but by the end of the day, more than 200 other protesters moved in, setting up barricades of burning tires and overturning vehicles.

The protesters have since been released on bail.

Demonstrators first occupied the site on Feb. 28 to stop construction by Henco Industries on land they say was stolen from the Six Nations more than 200 years ago.

The province says aboriginals gave up the land in 1841 to make way for a new highway, an agreement a Six Nations spokesperson said was only meant to be a lease.

Six Nations filed a land claim suit over the area in 1999.

Linda Powless, editor of a weekly aboriginal newspaper on the Six Nations reserve, said the dispute is a microcosm of a national problem.

"There isn't a First Nation in Canada that hasn't been ignored by the federal government in resolving its land claims," she said. "The process has kept people waiting for years. Six Nations has been waiting over 200 years for a settlement here."

There are plans to build 250 homes on the 40-hectare site.

Other sympathy demonstrations have sprung up, including in the Montreal area where aboriginals showed their support by putting Mohawk flags on the Mercier bridge across the St. Lawrence River.

The bridge was temporarily closed Thursday morning when Mohawks from Kahnawake blocked traffic in both directions while the flags were being put up.

The province was granted a court injunction in March to remove the protesters, but staged their raid on Thursday because they said "escalation activity" had given them reason to be concerned. Police said New York licence plates had been seen around the site.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was quick to say that his government had in no way influenced the police decision to remove the demonstrators. He said he would take as much time as needed to settle the dispute peacefully.

Thursday's events raised the spectre of the 1995 standoff in Ipperwash, Ont., which ended with a police raid and protester Dudley George shot dead.

George's death is the subject of an ongoing inquiry, which has heard testimony from former Ontario premier Mike Harris.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday he was watching developments in Caledonia closely.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine is also concerned that the Caledonia protest could turn more ugly and said blocking roads and occupying land is not the answer.

"We still believe that the most effective way achieving change is through negotiations," he said.

But Bradford Morse, who teaches aboriginal law at the University of Ottawa, said the media spotlight on a protest can help.

"The media has a huge influence in so many ways. Filing lawsuits is not always an effective way to proceed," he said.

Morse said some protests have led to the recognition of land rights, but the cost has been incarceration, injury and sometimes death.

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