Protesters in Kahnawake will remain in place until Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs are satisfied
MONTREAL -- Protesters in Kahnawake remain on the Candiac line train tracks in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to a Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in northern BC.
Kahnawake's traditional government – the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake – issued two news releases this week in support of the blockades.
The nation is part of the broader Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy and secretary Kenneth Deer spoke to CTV News about the nation's reason for supporting the hereditary chiefs in BC.
"They are traditional people like ourselves," he said. "We've been here since time immemorial. We have our own political system, a clan system, we have a constitution that pre-dates European contact, and these kinds of political systems have been subject to repression by the Canadian government and replaced by the Indian Act and elected councils."
Coastal GasLink has promoted the fact that it has signed agreements with the elected leadership of 20 First Nations along the pipeline's route, but Deer and other traditional leaders are not part of the elected council system.
Kahnawake's elected council - the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake - also stated its support of the Wet'suwet'en protests and condemned the RCMP's use of force against the protesters.
Deer and others have drawn parallels between the current protests and those in the summer of 1990 when Kahnawake joined Kanesatake to protest the municipality of Oka's plans to expand a golf course on traditional Mohawk land. Then, protesters from both communities blocked several roads and the Mercier Bridge. Now, according to Deer, it is time to return the favour.
"When we were surrounded by the police and the army, all those Indigenous people across Canada supported us, so when they ask for help, we have to reciprocate," said Deer. "We have to do what they did for us 30 years ago."
Canadian Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said "modest progress" was made with the protesters in the Mohawk community of Tyendinaga, who have halted train service across much of Eastern Canada.
Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer criticized the protesters Friday.
"These protesters, these activists, may have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade, but they need to check their privilege, they need to check their privilege and let people whose job depends on the railway system – small business, farmers – do their job," said Scheer.
The confederacy responded to Scheer in a news release condemning his statements, and Deer warned about using the "rule of law" argument against the protesters.
"We regard that as a provocation, and they've got to be very careful about the rhetoric because rhetoric can lead to violence," he said. "We're cautioning Canadians not to go in that direction and we can work this out."
Deer also responded to those who have criticized protesters for causing an inconvenience.
"Let me tell you a little story about John A. MacDonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, who starved the people on the plains so they could force them into signing treaties," said Deer. "It's ironic that they would complain about being inconvenienced."
The commuter rail service Exo said Sunday that the exo4 Candiac line, which runs through Kahnawake, would remain out of service until further notice. Exo said it would continue bus shuttle service until further notice.
Since Feb. 10, shuttles have transported commuters from Candiac, Delson, Saint-Constant and Sainte-Catherine stations to the Mansfield Terminal at the corner of Saint-Antoine St. West and Mansfield St.
Deer said the answer is simple when asked how the situation can be resolved.
"When they (the Wet'suwet'en) are satisfied, when they have come to an agreement then they can say, 'thank you for your support. You can take the barricades down now. It's not up to us to take down those barricades," he said.