Manitobans 'die,' block traffic in solidarity with arrest of Mohawk demonstrators
'This is a very painful reminder of how much work we have to do … to fully protect and realize human rights'
Manitobans have joined in on protests against the Ontario Provincial Police, who moved in on the rail blockade near Belleville, Ont., where Mohawks of Tyendinaga are demonstrating in solidarity with anti-pipeline activists in northern B.C.
Roughly 100 people blocked rush hour traffic on Portage Avenue to perform a 'die-in' outside of Manitoba RCMP headquarters. Several people lay on the street to show their solidarity, while others formed a circle around them that spanned the entire intersection at Dominion Street.
A different group also blocked part of the Trans-Canada Highway near Deacons Corner Monday afternoon, cutting the traffic down to one lane for nearly two hours.
Grade 12 student Carter Graveline represents Indigenous Youth and Allies for Wet'suwet'en and identifies as a land and water protector. He says demonstrating is a right.
"We have a right to protest and if you want to call it protesting, I guess that's what it is.... It's protecting really. So if we have these rights, why are we being arrested," he said.
Graveline, who is Métis, says it's like a personal attack when Indigenous people are arrested for protecting the land.
"They're just trying to support our relatives across Turtle Island. When one of our nations is under attack it's like we all are."
About 100 protestors on Portage Ave in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Winnipeg?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Winnipeg</a> in support of Wet'suwet'en in BC and Mohawk protestors in Belleville. Traffic in front of <a href="https://twitter.com/rcmpmb?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@rcmpmb</a> HQ at Portage and Dominion still blocked. They have been here for approximately 45 min now. <a href="https://t.co/WzjI77RGuE">pic.twitter.com/WzjI77RGuE</a>—@CBCMarina
Situation could get 'much, much worse'
The wave of demonstrations across the country has caused some to be concerned.
Niigaan Sinclair, an associate professor in the University of Manitoba's native studies department, is worried the situation could get "much, much worse" now that demonstrators are being arrested for blocking passenger and freight train traffic for more than two weeks.
"The video is pretty damning to watch. It's a video of dozens of police officers armed to the teeth, lined up with paddy wagons, prepared to throw individuals who are standing on their own territory into them," Sinclair said Monday morning.
"It's a pretty horrific scene to watch."
The CBC's Olivia Stefanovich reported from the scene in Ontario and described it as a tense time as dozens of police officers moved in on the camp around 7:15 a.m. CT.
The blockade began Feb. 6 in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose the construction of a $6-billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in northern B.C.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said barricades on rail lines and other major transportation routes must come down.
On Monday morning, Ontario Provincial Police said in a statement that officers would arrest demonstrators who don't comply with a provincial Superior Court of Justice injunction against the blockades, but added that "use of force remains a last resort." CN Rail obtained the injunction earlier this month to end the demonstrations.
Sinclair said the arrests remind him of Oka and peaceful Indigenous occupations that became violent when police forces got involved.
Oka is the Quebec town where in 1990, a police officer was killed and dozens of people were injured after Mohawks set up a blockade to stop a golf course development on land they considered sacred.
"This is exactly what Canadian law looks like when it comes to Indigenous land," Sinclair said.
"When they stand up and have legal title to do so, the Canadian government simply moves in and removes them, arrests them and builds the project anyway."
Sheila North, the former grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakinak, a northern Manitoba First Nations advocacy organization, hopes people will look at the arrests without hate.
She said the videos of the Ontario arrests create a real us-versus-them image in Canadians' minds, making it seem as though the Indigenous people are aggressors.
North wants Manitobans to see that Indigenous people are asserting their sovereignty through these blockades.
"I hope that people understand that these are long-standing issues. This is not a one-off thing. It's not happening just because Indigenous people don't have anything to do," she said.
Ry Moran, the director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg, said he expected something like this to happen.
The federal government needs to show it's dedicated to free, prior and informed consent, he said.
"It's the ability to say yes to something, the ability to say no to something, the ability to say stop, and the ability to say yes, but not that way," he said.
"I just think this is a very painful reminder of how much work we have to do in this country to fully protect and realize human rights."
Although some demonstrators' signs say the opposite, Moran doesn't believe reconciliation is dead.
Moran believes all Canadians have a role in mending the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
"We as a country have been living through centuries of gross injustice, significant oppression amounting to genocide.… Collectively as a country we recognize this, we affirm this and we work as diligently and as swiftly as possible to end the oppression and injustice facing Indigenous peoples," he said.
"That's what reconciliation is."
WATCH | Emily Brass' report:
With files from Sam Samson, Marina von Stackelberg