Kanesatake protesters were blocking Highway 344 in response to the OPP decision to arrest people Monday at a rail blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. (Steve Bonspiel, The Eastern Door)
A few hours after the Ontario Provincial Police raided Tyendinaga, arresting 10 people and hospitalizing two, Kanehsatake land protectors closed off all access points to the community.
The people mobilized, like the gathering and shutting down of the CP rail line over three weeks ago now in Kahnawake.
As the blockades were going up in four different areas of the community, land protector John Harding called The Eastern Door.
Two journalists went up together, the author of this piece with the Montreal Gazette’s Christopher Curtis in tow – the only media allowed behind the lines at that time.
The access, without other media present, made for a more laid-back atmosphere, or as laid back as a blockade can be.
In fact, the attitude of all but two angry locals, one of which who yelled at both TED and the Gazette, along with CBC – which had been let in by Ellen Gabriel at that point – was positive.
They were confident in what they were doing and there were men, women and children present, with elders speaking to each other in Kanien’kéha, providing guidance and support, standing, waiting.
The words were similar, “we’re supporting Tyendinaga and we’re supporting Wet’suwet’en.”
When we first arrived, Harding hadn’t been at the blockade at Akweks and Ste. Germaine long, so he had to gather with the men to see who would go on camera for a Facebook Live feed, and he spoke alone:
“We were hoping for good faith negotiations and a peaceful resolution, instead the government showed their colours today and went into Tyendinaga and also are threatening our sister community of Kahnawake,” said Harding.
“For us here, our job is to close off the territory and make sure we control access to who comes in,” he said, adding only residents were allowed in.
Harding, who was a Mohawk Council chief before, has been keeping a close eye as events unfold across Turtle Island, and he has been sharing what he finds on social media, to keep everyone connected.
An SQ patrol vehicle was parked about 800 metres away from the blockade, over the hill and not visible to the people manning it, turning non-residents away.
After the visit, which was next to two large non-Native farms on Mohawk territory – another gripe left over from 1990 that was never resolved – we headed to the English Point blockade and spoke to some of the people there.
“We’re trying to make a point that we’re angry,” said Tehson Montour. “We want to get a group from Kanehsatake to go up and help them (Tyendinaga), but right now we’re showing our support from right here,” said Montour, who got to the blockade at 11, a few hours after the OPP moved in on Tyendinaga.
There was also a feeling of calm, but that quickly disappeared when the SQ appeared to be massing a few hundred metres away, at the first street in English Point.
One local man with binoculars saw three transport trucks, SQ cars, and other vehicles.
It felt like the police could be coming in, so help was called, and other community members from Route 344 in the Pines came calling.
TED waited to see if a police operation would occur, once again, in a community that saw SQ come in shooting at men, women and children in the early morning of July 11, 1990, almost 30 years ago – but it never materialized.
Potential spotter planes, news helicopters and other activity had everyone on high alert.
When we finally made it to the cemetery and golf course, there were two separate blockades, one on top of the hill and one at the bottom, to keep police and media out.
Dave Rice was there with family, urging the youth to listen and learn, and act with respect.
“I don’t know how long this is going to last, we left it in the hands of the younger generation and we’ll see what they want to do,” said Rice.
“There’s a lot of youth, a lot of elders; it’s nice to see.”
Rice used two key words – calm and respectful, to describe how it has been, adding, “All of this is peaceful, there’s no threats, no violence. There was an incident earlier with someone being yelled at, but we dealt with that.
“Our people have been inconvenienced for hundreds of years. If this disrupts their (non-Natives) daily life….put yourself in our shoes for a year, a month, and imagine what we go through,” he said.
By the time Ellen Gabriel came back from the English Point blockade, she made remarks to the media, (CBC was added to the mix), in English and French.
“It’s been a bit tense at moments, but I think people, once you explain to them why we’re doing it, that they’ve been okay with it and they say ‘okay I’ll go around’ and I’ll find an alternate route,” she said, adding not all have been as understanding, but it comes with the territory.
“It’s a show of solidarity, it’s on our territory and we have every right to do it, and if we want to take it down today we can, and we can just put it right back up tomorrow.”
Gabriel attended the community meeting in Kahnawake Monday night, roughly 6 hours after the Kanehsatake blockades first went up.
As TED left, hours after we arrived, by the ball field at l’Annonciation, we passed through the fourth blockade, which was letting cars through on the left side, manned by a few community members.
By nightfall, all blockades had opened one lane to let vehicles in and out, but the people vowed to stay at the blockades, overnight and “however long it takes,” to show continued support.
“It’s a part of Canada’s colonial history, to use force when they don’t get their way,” said Gabriel. “The thing is, Indigenous law supersedes Canadian law. Even within international law and domestic law, the rule of law includes human rights, and so we have human rights and those are not being respected by Canada.
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Eastern Door Editor/Publisher Steve Bonspiel started his journalism career in January 2003 with The Nation magazine, a newspaper serving the Cree of northern Quebec.
Since that time, he has won numerous regional and national awards for his in-depth, impassioned writing on a wide variety of subjects, including investigative pieces, features, editorials, columns, sports, human interest and hard news.
He has freelanced for the Montreal Gazette, Toronto Star, Windspeaker, Nunatsiaq News, Calgary Herald, Native Peoples Magazine, and other publications.
Among Steve's many awards is the Paul Dumont-Frenette Award for journalist of the year with the Quebec Community Newspapers Association in 2015, and a back-to-back win in 2010/11 in the Canadian Association of Journalists' community category - one of which also garnered TED a short-list selection of the prestigious Michener award.
He was also Quebec Community Newspapers Association president from 2012 to 2019, and continues to strive to build bridges between Native and non-Native communities for a better understanding of each other.