CALEDONIA-A tension-filled native blockade on a highway overpass has ended peacefully.
“It’s fantastic,” said Haldimand Mayor Marie Trainer after the barricade on Highway 6 was taken down around 2 p.m. yesterday. “We’re pleased, glad that cooler heads prevailed.”
Her comments came a day after she had expressed fears that some members of her community might take the law into their own hands out of frustration.
No charges were laid after the five-day protest.
Native protesters had blocked the overpass and a rail line since the arrest of four Mohawks from the Tyendinaga First Nation near Deseronto in eastern Ontario on Friday.
“Ongoing dialogue between the OPP and Six Nations leadership, and among the Six Nations leaders themselves, as well as our own commitment to resolve these matters in the safest manner possible, produced this important result,” Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino said.
Six Nations spokesperson Degonudogee said the blockade was called off when members of the Six Nations of the Grand River Men’s Council decided that “the threat of armed police against the Tyendinaga people had been removed.”
“The closure of the bypass went into place late last Friday as a show of support and unity of the Haudenosaunee people, after the OPP drew guns on a group of Mohawk people, including women and children, in Tyendinaga,” Degonudogee said.
Friday’s arrests began when Shawn Brant, 44, of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory was arrested by Napanee OPP during a traffic stop. Two officers were injured and a cruiser window smashed after police arrested Brant, prompting his supporters to rush to the scene and clash with police. Brant was charged with assault with a weapon, mischief under $5,000, breach of recognizance, and possession of weapons and marijuana.
He was a central figure in protests last summer that sparked the closing of highways 401 and 402 and rail lines in Central Canada. Earlier in 2007, Brant was among Mohawk protestors who blocked a CN line between Toronto and Montreal.
Fantino said the OPP “is committed to open communication and a reasoned, tempered approach.”
“I am grateful to everyone affected for their patience, and to aboriginal leaders and their community members for the critical role they played in the successful resolution of the incidents near Deseronto and in Caledonia,” he said.
Degonudogee said the blockade had “nothing whatsoever” to do with ongoing land claims talks in Six Nations or Tyendinaga.
Meantime, blockades won’t stop the province from negotiating with native protesters to resolve outstanding land claims and end a two-year occupation on the outskirts of Caledonia, Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday.
McGuinty said he won’t call off negotiations with Six Nations protesters unless he’s told to do so by the provincial police and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“The principal negotiations, as you well know, take place between the federal government and the Six Nations community,” he said.
“If at some point in time, the OPP (were to) advise us it was in the interests of public safety that we end these negotiations, and if Prime Minister Harper also agreed that he should end his negotiations, then that’s obviously something that we would have to consider.”
But even then, the province might be reluctant to call off the talks, he said. “They’d have to make a pretty compelling argument because the Ipperwash report specifically said, keep talking. The only way to make real, lasting and substantive progress is to keep talking.”
Although the town’s mayor feared the renewed blockades would spark violent clashes between protesters and frustrated residents, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant said people’s patience paid off.
“Obviously it’s very frustrating for residents and I want to commend those who have … allowed cooler heads to prevail in this case,” he said, adding the Caledonia blockades were fuelled by rumour and misinformation.
“There was a misunderstanding as to what was transpiring (in Deseronto) … . There were rumours circulating around the communities about what was happening with the OPP that just weren’t true.”
Fantino said he’s committed to working for peace as well as upholding the law.
“I am totally committed to do what is in my power to reach peaceful solutions, however, I am equally unwavering in my resolve to hold accountable anyone who would break the law and jeopardize public safety.”