National Day of Action for Aboriginal Peoples: Related Articles
DESERONTO, Ont. (CP) - Mohawk protester Shawn Brant has emerged
as a lonesome voice of hard-line native militancy, plotting
major economic disruption as his way of making Canada sit up and
Whether Friday's national aboriginal day of action will amount to
peaceful marches or burning barricades isn't clear. Regardless,
Brant says it's just the beginning.
"We're going to have that expression of strength and solidarity
across this country," he said during an interview at the quarry he
occupied on disputed land last March near Deseronto, Ont., west of
"Then we'll step back and say: 'You absorb this.' Because the next
time we come out, it's going to be harder, it's going to be longer
and it's going to have an impact on this economy that Canada can't
imagine at this point.
"We've had enough."
Brant is a solitary figure when it comes to such bravado, a
reality he blames on a "campaign of fear" waged by the federal
Elected native leaders who rely on Ottawa for billions of dollars
in funding have taken to heart the message that confrontation
means fiscal cuts, he says.
His own chief has distanced himself from that in-your-face approach.
Brant says he understands the need to protect already stretched
cash for social, housing and education programs.
But he took aim at Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice and what
he called the cheap buy-off of his partner in blockade threats,
Terry Nelson, chief of Roseau River First Nation in Manitoba.
Nelson backed off plans to block rail lines in his community after
Prentice offered him 75 acres toward settling a much larger,
long-standing land dispute.
"Seventy-five acres is hardly worth compromising a person's
principles," Brant said.
Any move Friday to block thousands of commuters on Highway 401 or
the CN rail line will depend on last-minute circumstances, police
presence and safety issues, Brant says.
OPP Sgt. Kristine Rae hopes the day will be one of peaceful,
"But if an incident occurs," she said in an interview, "we have
contingency plans in place."
Brant says the safety of women and children is of paramount concern.
Still, he and a tight-knit group of supporters within the Bay of
Quinte Mohawks are determined to wreak at least some degree of
"June 29th is the day to start this campaign," Brant said. "We're
the people that continue to bury our kids and have to put them to
bed hungry at night. Yeah, we're absolutely sick of it.
"The only voice that we have is when we start to target those
things which disrupt people . . . , that inconvenience people.
"That's the only time we seem to get the ear of government and the
rest of the Canadian public to consider our grievances."
Prentice has taken a hard line of his own, saying blockades are
illegal and will be treated accordingly.
He has also said that dragged-out land talks like the ones that
drove Brant to take over the quarry are unacceptable. Federal and
band negotiators have been wrangling over 370 hectares of rolling
countryside for years.
It takes 13 years on average to settle land claims, a woefully
flawed process that Prentice hopes to change with new legislation
and more cash.
Brant, 43, says it's a sad statement that native people are forced
to the extremes of protest.
The slight and soft-spoken father of three wears his hair long
under an ever-present battle-fatigue cap. He is a veteran of the
most violent and iconic native clashes, from Oka to Ipperwash. He
has been known to take over and sometimes trash the offices of
politicians, and has done jail time as a result.
Perhaps no one has as much at stake on Friday. Brant is out on
bail on charges of mischief, disobeying a court order and breach
of recognizance in connection with the 30-hour blockade of the
nearby CN rail line April 20.
He is under a specific bail condition that he not participate in
Canadian National is also suing for related financial losses it
has claimed run into the millions of dollars.
Since March, Brant has been living at the quarry in an old school
bus that was once converted into a deer-hunting camper. He sleeps
in one of four crammed bunk beds, a half-machete slung over one of
"I'm a target," he says matter-of-factly.
When asked what really motivates him, he exhales cigarette smoke
and at times fights his emotions. Living in a bus on a quarry for
more than 90 days has taken its toll on his family. It has sparked
no end of debate within a Mohawk community that is itself divided.
But Brant is clear on his convictions and determined to stay until
the province stops "trucking away the very land we're talking
"Our babies get sick. They get sores on their bodies from polluted
For years he carried around a newspaper story about a 10-year-old
boy in Northern Ontario who left class one day in 1994 and hung
himself from a swingset.
Brant says he's asking Canadians to put themselves in the shoes of
native people, and to be patient with whatever disruption may come
"We simply want to provide for our kids a safe, healthy
environment - and optimism for the future."
Samantha Craggs / The Intelligencer
Local News - Wednesday, June 27, 2007 @ 10:00
Tyendinaga Mohawks plan to target Highway 401, the town of Deseronto
or the CN Rail Line - again - on Friday's national aboriginal day of
action, says a local Mohawk protester.
Shawn Brant, the spokesman for a group that has occupied the Thurlow
Aggregates quarry on Deseronto Road since March, said there will be
activity, likely involving "one of the targets we identified back on
April 22," he said. Those targets are Highway 401, the railway and the
town of Deseronto.
"The Assembly of First Nations has called for a campaign of economic
disruption, and we've committed ourselves to that campaign," he said.
Brant's group already blocked the major CN Rail corridor from Toronto
to Montreal in April, stopping train traffic for 30 hours.
The Assembly of First Nations, for its part, is presenting a softer
face on the day of action. It initiated the movement with a 2006
resolution, but its website stresses it is not a call for blockades.
"We are reaching out to all Canadians and asking them to join us in
peaceful rallies and events and call on the federal government to work
with us to build stronger First Nations and a stronger Canada," the
website reads. "We want to build bridges - not blockades - with
But Brant said that should not be done at the expense of making a statement.
"We do see it as an opportunity for that, and as well I think the
message has to be clear," he said. "June 29th is about saying to
people that we will not live with these indignities, so in 10 years
time we're not talking about the same crisis as we are now.
"We're a little bit weary of always making concessions. On that day,
we're going to ask for the understanding of the non-native community."
The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte have a different approach, said Chief
R. Donald Maracle. He sees it as a time to reach out, and said band
council would not support any local blockades. Instead, he wants the
non-native community to join them in pressuring the federal government
to make changes.
"I believe if we're going to have non-natives writing the government,
we can't afford to alienate them," he said.
Non-natives who want to be involved, he said, should use the day to
write local MPs, MPPs and government officials and educate themselves
beyond reading about the issues in the media.
The day of action happens three days after a preliminary hearing date
was set for Brant in Napanee court on charges of mischief, disobeying
a court order and breach of recognizance in connection with the April
CN blockade. Brant is out on bail on the condition he not participate
in any unlawful protests or block any thoroughfares on or off
Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
Brant said in an interview Tuesday that if he breaks his bail, "that
has to speak to our commitment of the day."
Excitement for the day is spreading through the community, said Kim
Maracle, who with husband David, a renowned artist and musician, will
head to the quarry that day to "go with the flow."
The day of action, she said, is long overdue.
"It's going to be a show of unity across Canada of First Nations
people, and there are non-native people who are behind us," she said.
"It's not just First Nations people. It's their responsibility to
stand behind us."
Jason Maracle, who with Brant is being sued by CN Rail for the April
blockade, declined to elaborate on their plans.
"We're kicking around some different ideas," said Maracle, who
describes the day of action as being "about water, poverty, suicide,
land claims ... it's about everything in general."
Kim Maracle estimates that "89 per cent of the territory" supports the
protesters. Some have asked David Maracle if he worries about his
reputation by participating.
"I said 'I'd be more worried about my reputation if I wasn't out
there,'" he said. If there are blockades, he said, "we've been
inconvenienced for 100 years. We hope Canadians can understand being
inconvenienced for one day."
In Deseronto, there is a hope for peace on June 29, followed two days
later by the town's first Canada Day celebrations in five years.
"I would rather see them not protest," said Mayor Norm Clark. "If
there are going to be protests, I'd rather they be peaceful protests
that don't disrupt individuals going to and from work."
Daryl Kramp, MP for Prince Edward-Hastings, agrees. Kramp supports the
right of First Nations to peacefully rally and spread information, but
not what Brant has mentioned, he said.
"It's when laws are being broken or there's criminal activities. I
have no use for that," he said. "I find it counterproductive, and
those sorts of negative acts will detract from the message."
There is a common denominator that can come through on that day, he
said. But it depends on who is at the reins.
"Let's just hope we have a lot of mature people who handle this in a
positive manner, people who legitimately care for this region," he
Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Ernie Parsons understands the value of a
day of education. Parsons was the adoptive father to Sandy, a First
Nations child who died from the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome. In
response, Parsons successfully introduced Sandy's Law, which sees
warnings of drinking during pregnancy posted wherever alcohol is sold.
Parsons remembers Sandy "getting ridiculed pretty hard at school," but
education made it stop. "There was a presentation at school, where
they took about half an hour to talk about Sandy's band and his
history, and the ridicule stopped," he said. "I don't think there are
enough native studies in school programs."
Parsons, however, does not support blockades.
"I would prefer actions that don't impact innocent people, like the
person on the way to visit a dying parent, or someone on the way to a
funeral, or the single parent on the train going to visit the
grandparents," he said. "I've always said, don't waste your time
arguing with people who don't make the decisions. When you block
traffic, that's not the people making the decisions."
Samantha Craggs / The Intelligencer
Local News - Wednesday, June 27, 2007 @ 10:00
It will be nearly Christmas before the criminal charges against Mohawk
protester Shawn Brant are back before court here.
Brant's attorney, Toronto-based social justice lawyer Peter Rosenthal,
appeared on Brant's behalf Tuesday morning. A preliminary hearing was
set for Dec. 20 and 21.
Brant, a well-known protester from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and
spokesman for a group that has inhabited a privately-owned
Deseronto-area quarry since March, is charged with mischief,
disobeying a court order and breach of recognizance. The charges stem
from a 30-hour blockade of a Canadian National rail line, the main
corridor between Toronto and Montreal, on April 20. The group is
pushing for the suspension of the quarry's licence because it is
located on land currently subject to land claim negotiations.
The warrant was issued for Brant's arrest five days after the blockade.
Brant surrendered himself to Napanee OPP May 3. None of the charges
have been proven in court.
The Crown is pursuing the charges against Brant as indictable
offenses, which come with a harsher penalty than summary offenses.
Brant, who did not appear with Rosenthal Tuesday morning, is currently
out on bail on the condition he not block thoroughfares or participate
in any unlawful protests. With June 29 proclaimed as a national
aboriginal day of action, Brant has said protesters will blockade the
town of Deseronto, Highway 401 or the CN rail line again. It is not
known if Brant himself will take part, which would place him in
violation of his bail conditions.
Judge Geoff Griffin alluded to that scenario during Rosenthal's appearance.
"We may be seeing you next week," Griffin said. "Time will tell, right?"
Brant appeared on CBC TV's The National last week, doing an interview
from the quarry with Peter Mansbridge. Rosenthal said the appearance
did not constitute a breach of Brant's bail conditions.
Brant said in an interview Tuesday that if he does break his bail
conditions on June 29 not to incite, encourage, plan or participate in
illegal protests, it will be a testament to the desperation of the
cause and the poor conditions of First Nations communities.
"That has to speak to our commitment of the day," he said. "We're
offering up our freedom and our lives. My freedom is a small price to
pay if it helps someone else get ahead."
Following Rosenthal's appearance in court, he was approached by a
local lawyer who offered her services pro bono, or free-of-charge.
Rosenthal said she was not the first lawyer to offer help, although it
was the first from the Belleville area.
Rosenthal and two fellow Toronto social justice lawyers, Howard Morton
and Mike Leitold, are representing Brant, his wife Tara Green and
Jason Maracle in a civil suit filed by CN regarding the April 20
protest and a similar one the year before. CN is suing for damages
incurred during the rail line's closure.
No upcoming dates have been scheduled for that case, Rosenthal said.
In the meantime, the court injunction secured by CN continues which
explicitly states that its railways not be blocked.
Rosenthal and his team are still investigating filing a countersuit
against CN for what Rosenthal says are longtime injustices against
First Nations people.
They are also investigating whether the rail crossing is on Tyendinaga
"CN described it as being on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, and we agree
with that," he said.