Protesters supporting Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence's hunger strike are blocking a rail line in Quebec's Gaspé region today, in the latest demonstration linked to the Idle No More movement.
The demonstrators from the Listuguj Mi’gmaq community say they will maintain their blockade of the tracks at Pointe-à-la-Croix for as long as necessary.
"It started with some youth in our community who felt a strong need to take action in solidarity with Chief Spence and the Idle No More movement," said Alexander Morrison, spokesman for the demonstrators.
"We are allowing passenger trains through our blockade as we are aware our fight is not with the citizens of this country, but rather the Harper government."
Spence has vowed to continue the now 23-day hunger strike until Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to meet and discuss Bill C-45, which critics say attacks aboriginal territorial rights.
Dozens of Idle No More demonstrations have sprung up across Canada,and more have been organized abroad, in an effort to pressure the government to facilitate that meeting and bring to the forefront issues such as inequality and treaty rights.
Harper has declined to meet Spence, but the government has offered her a meeting with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan. Some MPs have also met with Spence in the teepee on Victoria Island where she is staging the hunger strike.
Several blockades have been set up on railways during the past week, including one on the main corridor between Montreal and Toronto on Sunday night that delayed Via Rail passengers.
Protesters also blocked the CN tracks in Sarnia, Ont., though an Ontario judge ruled the First Nation blockade must come down by 6 p.m. Wednesday.
CN successfully filed a court injunction against the demonstrators last week and it was extended indefinitely.
APTN reported Wednesday that contempt charges had been filed against the demonstration's spokesperson for failing to remove the blockade.
A statement released last week on the Idle No More website urged peaceful forms of protest.
"Idle No More feels that any acts that are not in line with peace and solidarity only detract attention from our ultimate mission," the statement said.
Several peaceful marches and highly visible demonstrations, including flash mobs at several malls, have also brought attention to the movement.
Freight trains targeted in eastern Quebec
In eastern Quebec, about 30 people set up a campsite on the rail tracks late last week in support of Spence's fight against the federal legislation.
"We’re targeting the cargo rails, the trains which are transporting our resources that were exploited here in our backyard with little or no benefit to our people," Morrison said.
The group alerted Canadian National in advance that it would be setting up the blockade, and was told no trains would be sent through. However, it didn't learn until after that call that CN no longer owns the line.
Representatives from the company responsible for the tracks sent out a representative but, due to a language barrier, it took 1½ days before the two sides were able to communicate.
Morrison said the demonstrators have not had to physically block any train traffic since the set up the camp on Dec. 27.
Chief of the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation, Dean Vicaire, said the increasingly weak Spence is making a significant sacrifice for the cause, and he supports the movement and her efforts.
"It's something that is truly supported in Canada from coast to coast to coast," he said.