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10 June 2009
Source: Belleville Intelligencer
TYENDINAGA TERRITORY — A phone call from a federal minister to native leaders in Akwesasne could spell the end of a three-day-old blockade here.
“It’s pretty simple, really,” mused Shawn Brant while leaning against a Tyendinaga police cruiser at the foot of the Skyway Bridge Tuesday — Day 3 of a blockabe by Brant and others here.
“The folks in Akwesasne aren’t asking for much — it could be something as simple as the minister (of Public Safety Peter Van Loan) calling back and saying ‘Hey, let’s get together and talk’ or ‘Hey, I’m returning your call.’”
If that were to happen, there would be a good chance the blockade of the local bridge — which spans the Bay of Quinte, linking Prince Edward County to Deseronto — would be taken down, the protest organizer said.
Brant and as many as two dozen protesters blocked both sides of the bridge around 7 p.m. Sunday, which he said was intended as a peaceful show of solidarity as Akwesasne natives oppose the presence of armed custom officers on their reserve.
All emergency vehicle traffic is being permitted through the site of the Skyway Bridge protest, said both police and protesters at the scene.
The local blockade, Brant said, will remain set up until a dialogue between the federal government — namely Van Loan — begins with native leaders.
Brant said he’s been told the minister has yet to return any phone calls from Akwesasne leaders and that has stiffened his resolve to maintain the blockade at Deseronto.
As for statements by Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Chief R. Donald Maracle that Brant’s actions are not welcomed by the people of Akwesasne, Brant said the politician’s hands are understandably tied because of his own elected, public office and obligations to different levels of government.
“His relationship to the federal government simply means that he cannot come out and support something like this. Their hands are tied and we know what’s in the hearts and minds of the people in Akwesasne, including the band council and we’re confident that there is overwhelming support for this.”
As for Akwesasne’s Grand Chief Tim Thompson’s suggestion that native communities write letters to local members of parliament, Brant — clad in camouflage and holding his ever-present cigarette — chuckled, and turned to the nearby blockage of tents, vehicles and people.
“Hey, I’m not one to lobby my MP … and this is the way Mohawk people do it. This is the way we lobby MPs and put pressure on situations like this.”
Brant and the his band chief agree on one point, however — the federal government has dropped the ball when it comes to dealing directly with the Akwesasne issue.
“We agree completely that that is a prerequisite in resolving Akwesasne and ending this issue here,” said Brant, who has cemented himself as the public face for Tyendinaga protests, most notably with the 2007 Day of Action protests and blockades.
Brant acknowledged he may be in violation of court-imposed conditions not to participate in such blockades, however.
“I just feel that sometimes there is a need to do those things that are right and to be prepared to make those sacrifices to prevent a tragedy or something bad to happen in Akwesasne,” he said.
Akwesasne resident Stacey Boots has been at the scene of the Tyendingaga protest since Sunday and said, despite reports to the contrary, his community appreciates the support.
“They love that Tyendinaga have stood up and said ‘We’re going to help you.’ The Akwesasne that I know of, is in support of Tyendinaga. We’re brothers and sisters through and through.
“The average Joe reading about this in the paper may get confused, but we’re trying really hard to get our point across. We just don’t want any guns in Akwesasne.”
As for locals who have witnessed similar blockades of the Skyway Bridge over the years, Brant said many expected the closure given the situation in Akwesasne.
“The bridge is used for expressions of support and solidarity — it’s been that way for 20 years and I really don’t think it’s much of a shock or surprise to people that it’s closed again.”