5-hour blockade of railways between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal
Protesters also gathered in Windsor, Ont., near the Ambassador Bridge to Michigan, slowing down traffic to North America's busiest border crossing for several hours, the CBC's Allison Johnson reported.
Activities including rallies, blockades and prayer circles were staged across the country Wednesday as part of the grassroots movement calling for more attention to changes that were contained in Bill C-45, the Conservative government's controversial omnibus budget bill that directly affected First Nations communities.
Aboriginal leaders say there has been a lack of consultation on changes to environmental protection regulations.
By Gloria Galloway and Oliver Moore
The “day of action” began quietly, but by lunchtime police in Windsor blocked one of two access roads to the Ambassador Bridge, which is the major trade crossing from southern Ontario to the United States, as protesters massed. A spokesman said the closing should not last long as natives were soon moving to a nearby parking lot.
A CN rail spokesman confirmed reports that protesters had blocked the main line in Manitoba, near Portage la Prairie. “We have stopped train traffic in the immediate area, and have obtained a court injunction,” Jim Feeny said.
A small group of people identified as members of the American Indian Movement were photographed blocking the CN rail line in Manitoba. Some members of the AIM, a militant group involved in the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, do not recognize the U.S.-Canada border.
Also Wednesday, VIA passenger trains in both directions were stopped by a blockade in the Marysville area, between Belleville and Kingston, where Tyendinaga Mohawks had pledged to block the line. Passengers whose itineraries require them to pass through the site of the blockade will be accommodated with ground transportation, VIA said in a statement.
The demonstrations were only a few of many planned for across the country. According to witnesses and news reports, protests were being held and roads blocked Wednesday in locations from coast to coast.
Cross-Canada Indigenous Blockades Highlight Idle No More Tactics' Tensions
By David P. Ball
After more than a month of protests, hunger strikes, social media–organized flash mobs, round dances and teach-ins—and in the wake of Friday's meeting between national aboriginal leadership and Prime Minister Stephen Harper—the sincerity of Harper's pledge to focus on First Nations issues is being discussed heatedly among activists from coast to coast.
Also under discussion is what to do about it. There are those who want to continue action, in line with Chief Theresa Spence’s ongoing fast—which continues despite the January 11 meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and 20 chiefs, including the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. And there are those who think the goal of getting Harper to the table was met, and are willing to see what happens before conducting more action. At the root of the debate is whether the meeting was too little, too late, and whether it even signifies that Harper is finally taking aboriginal concerns seriously, which many doubt.
“The best way First Nations and other Canadians can express their disappointment with federal indifference is to translate their concerns into action,” said Patrick Madahbee, Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation, in a statement on January 15. “Harper may have pulled the wool over some people’s eyes last week in Ottawa, but Chief Theresa Spence is still fasting for justice. We call on other Canadians to be understanding and supportive of our efforts in the days ahead to demonstrate to members of the Harper caucus that they were not elected to ignore the will of the people.”
A number of first nations leaders are upset that Mr. Atleo proceeded with the meeting even though Mr. Harper refused to meet the demand of Theresa Spence, the Chief of Attawapiskat, who wanted Governor-General David Johnston to be in the room.
Those schisms within the AFN could come into play in the future as the government tries to negotiate a way out of the unrest that is being demonstrated across the country by supporters of Idle No More.
But the executive of the AFN says the work of preparing for future talks with the government is carrying on in Mr. Atleo’s absence and they are holding meetings to plot strategies going forward.
"The complete gutting of all environmental approval, regulatory and enforcement mechanisms in Canada … mean that the reassertion of aboriginal and treaty rights are the last best hope to protect both First Nations' and Canadians' water, air and soil from being poisoned forever by big oil and mining corporations," said Clayton Thomas-Muller from the Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign.
The government opposes any changes.
Andrew McDougall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman, said: "The government has no plans to reconsider its legislation."
For more on Idle No More, see Supervisor: Idle No More Is "Pointless" and Harper Meets Chiefs.
Below: "Demonstrator Black Cloud blocks the Canadian National Railway line just west of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba January 16, 2013 as part of the 'Idle No More' movement. The 'Idle No More' movement started in December to protest federal omnibus bills and other legislation aboriginal people say erodes treaty rights." (Fred Greenslade/Reuters)