The Current

Little concrete action in Trudeau's blockade speech, says Indigenous policy analyst

Russ Diabo, an Indigenous policy analyst and member of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnesatake, said he was disappointed in the lack of action in Trudeau's speech in the House of Commons about the Indigenous rail blockades.

Russ Diabo wanted to hear a plan forward in House of Commons speech

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a statement in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, regarding infrastructure disruptions caused by Indigenous-led blockades across the country. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's speech addressing the blockades in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs lacked a plan to resolve the situation, according to an Indigenous policy analyst. 

"I wanted to hear the prime minister say what concrete steps he's going to take to resolve the situation with the Wet'suwet'en, because the RCMP assault on them is what triggered all the support actions across the country, including in the Mohawk community," Russ Diabo, a member of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake and the editor of the First Nations Strategic Bulletin, told The Current's host Matt Galloway.

In his speech to the House of Commons on Tuesday morning, Trudeau said the government is committed to "dialogue" with the Indigenous protesters who have been blocking rail lines, bridges and ferry routes across the country in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in northern B.C.

Rail blockades by Tyendinaga Mohawks near Belleville, Ont. and by Kahnawake Mohawks near Montreal have stopped passenger trains and cargo shipments across eastern Canada for nearly two weeks.

A protester stands between Mohawk Warrior Society flags at a rail blockade in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont. on Sunday. The protest is in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Diabo said that while reports of potential shortages of propane and consumer goods in Canada due to the rail blockades were "regrettable," he believed that it was up to Trudeau to resolve that issue.

He argues that the prime minister should meet with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs directly, and direct the RCMP to leave their territory.

"The one thing I agree with [Trudeau] on is that they're talking, but it has to take more than talk — they have to take action," he said.

"If they don't do that, I think you're going to see this situation continue."

Hereditary chiefs and their supporters had been blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, which would run through their traditional territory. 

Diabo said that Mohawk Nation protesters have told him they are in contact with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs.

They plan to maintain the blockades until the RCMP leaves Wet'suwet'en territory and Coastal GasLink workers agree to leave and find an alternate route for the pipeline

Diabo, who was a founding member of the Aboriginal Peoples' Commission of the federal Liberal Party in the early 1990s, said he was discouraged by Trudeau's speech on Tuesday.

Russ Diabo is Indigenous policy analyst and member of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnesatake. (Submitted by Russ Diabo)

"We've heard platitudes from the prime minister for the last four years … about reconciliation, 'nation-to-nation,' decolonisation, he has co-opted a lot of that terminology," he said.

"But as our people have seen, he says one thing and does another."

Diabo said he believed the Trudeau government bore a significant responsibility for the protests because, while the government has invested heavily in on-reserve programs including for education and infrastructure, Diabo said it has done little to address Indigenous land rights issues.

"He's been focusing on programs, not rights," he said.

Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in B.C. who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline project running through their traditional territory (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

While in his first term in office, Trudeau committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The declaration includes articles on restoring Indigenous lands or giving Indigenous people restitution for them. Diabo said that he was disappointed to see little action had been taken on those land rights issues.

"A lot of the people expected them to do that, and they didn't," he said.

When the arrests on Wet'suwet'en territory happened earlier this month, Diabo said, "that reverberated across the country, because many people share the same feeling that the land rights issues that are unresolved have to be settled."

 Written by Allie Jaynes. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin, Peter Mitton, Cameron Perrier and Idella Sturino.