Idle No More targets Canadian travel routes
Some U.S. border crossings and rail lines shut down by First Nations demonstrators
The Idle No More protest movement continued to gain steam with more demonstrations Saturday, after it was announced Prime Minister Stephen Harper would meet with a delegation of First Nations chiefs, including Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who is now on day 26 of a hunger strike.
Idle No More protesters staged a railroad blockade Saturday evening in Marysville, Ont., near Kingston. Via Rail trains travelling the Toronto-Montreal and Toronto-Ottawa corridors were disrupted.
Buses were to take people from the halted trains to other trains waiting on the other side of the blockade.
Via contact info
Via Rail urged customers to contact their info line for up-to-date travel info regarding the Idle No More blockade.
Officials at Via tweeted Saturday evening that they remain unsure of when the tracks will be clear, but, remained "hopeful the blockade will be over and train operations will resume tomorrow."
Via spokesman Jacques C. Gagnon said the Ontario Provincial Police sent out a travel advisory on Friday that the protest was likely to occur.
CN Rail, which owns the line, said its staff spotted some of the protesters tampering with a rail crossing signal device, something that is illegal and could put people's lives at risk.
"CN will investigate and we will seek to prosecute anyone who was tampering with the signal system," said Jim Feeny, a CN spokesman.
Protesters staged a similar blockade on Saturday which lasted approximately three hours.
A number of groups have pledged to block bridges, several of which straddle the Canada-U.S. border.
Police in Cornwall, Ont., closed the International Bridge for more than three hours in response to an Idle No More protest that began mid-Saturday morning. About 350 protesters crossed the bridge. The bridge reopened by 2 p.m. local time.
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The border crossing between Sarnia, Ont., and Port Huron, Mich., and a stretch of highway 403 in Hamilton, Ont., were also temporarily shut down due to protests
Those on Sarnia's Blue Water Bridge banged drums, chanted and stood in the middle of the roadway to listen to speeches.
One of them included Greg Plain of Aamjiwnaang First Nation, who was one of the organizers of a recent nearly-two week long blockade of a CN Rail line in Sarnia.
"We just want to get the message out," he said. "It's not just us who should be out there. There are a lot of other Canadians that are out there supporting natives and anybody else who want to hear it."
And in Saskatchewan, RCMP say they closed off Highway 624 from Highway 1 to Highway 46 for safety reasons due to a protest of about 300 people.
The Idle No More protest that was blocking commercial trains on Canadian National Rail tracks between Moncton and Miramichi, N.B., on Friday has been shut down. CN Rail filed a temporary court injunction Friday afternoon.
Organizers with Idle No More held several other demonstrations on Saturday at sites including:
- The Peace Arch crossing in Surrey, B.C.
- N.W.T.'s Deh Cho Bridge.
- The Peace Bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo in the Niagara region.
- The Queenston/Lewiston Bridge between Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake.
- The Buffalo Narrows Reserve in Northern Saskatchewan.
- The White Buffalo Youth Lodge in Saskatoon, with actor and activist Tantoo Cardinal.
- The Santa Maria bridge in West Edmonton Mall.
- Centennial Park on Salt Spring Island, B.C.
- Orchard Park Shopping Centre in Kelowna, B.C.
CBC reporter Aarti Pole was at the protest in Fort Erie, where about 75 people gathered to march across the bridge to meet with their American counterparts in the middle.
Pole said the protesters were "cautiously optimistic" about the upcoming meeting between Harper and First Nations leaders and were particularly concerned about the Indian Act, the Navigation Act and the Environmental Assessment Act.
Organizers in NWT in say they chose the Deh Cho Bridge because it's still on Dene land. They did a round dance and had a feast on the bridge.
Idle No More began in late October when four women in Saskatchewan began exchanging emails about Bill C-45, which had just been introduced in Ottawa. Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilsonfeld were concerned the bill would erode indigenous rights.
They decided to organize an event in Saskatoon, set for Nov. 10, and to help spread the word they turned to Facebook. They chose to call the page "Idle No More" as a motivational slogan.
Soon after, branch groups sprouted all over the province and across the country. Now, the movement has inspired supporters all over the world.
Meanwhile, Spence has said she would attend the meeting with Harper on Jan. 11. But when asked whether it would be enough to end her hunger strike, she said she would wait to see the outcome.
First Nations chiefs are concerned the federal government isn't honouring their treaty rights.
Spence and her supporters want Gov. Gen. David Johnston and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty at the meeting as well, and said the hunger strike could continue after Jan. 11.
The Attawapiskat chief has been conducting her hunger strike on Victoria Island, just in sight of the Parliament buildings. She has since been joined on the island by dozens more people. She is not alone on her hunger strike. Cross Lake, Man., elder Raymond Robinson has also gone without food since Dec. 11.
With files from The Canadian Press