Local activists are opposing a Canadian National Rail (CNR) lawsuit against three Mohawk nation activists from the Tyendinaga territory involved in the blockades of two highways and a CNR line that run through their land.
The Tyendinaga Support Committee plans to protest CNR headquarters in Montreal and to raise $5,000 by November 30 to subsidize the legal costs of the three activists – Shawn Brant, Tara Green, and Andrew Maracle.
“We blocked the railroad, Highway 401, and Highway 2. The blockade shut down the Windsor-to-Montreal rail corridor, part of Canada’s most heavily-used line for both freight and VIA rail passenger trains,” said Shawn Brant, explaining the group’s tactics.
“That train line was closed for almost two days to bring some attention, resolve, and commitment toward a land claim we were working on…. We closed the railway down, and we had to fight for it.”
But as a result of this protest, CNR filed a civil claim against Brant, Green, and Maracle, demanding $100-million in damages; the Federal Crown prosecutors filed criminal charges against Brant. The Crown’s initial push for a 12-year prison sentence was finally reduced to three months of confinement on the Tyendinaga thanks to a plea bargain this week.
Brant believed the offer of a plea bargain was made to avoid going to trial, where potentially embarrassing information about the conduct of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) might have come to light. He claimed that the OPP used illegal wiretaps and misrepresented information while investigating his role in the blockades. He also charged that Julian Fantino – the commissioner of the OPP – threatened to put him in a morgue when speaking to one of the activist’s family members.
Lisa Stepnuk, who organizes with the Montreal Tyendinaga Support Committee, saw a connection between the criminal prosecution and the civil suit.
“Our government is criminalizing indigenous resistance, so it is our responsibility to challenge them, or hold them accountable,” Stepnuk said.
Disputed since 1793, Mohawk sovereignty was finally recognized over the Culbertson Tract in 2003, according to the Support Committee web site – though it has amounted to little more than words.
“The county government continues to approve developments on the Culbertson Tract, and the provincial government has so far refused to revoke a license for quarry operations that are literally tearing up and hauling away Mohawk land,” the Committe web site said.
The Federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs lists dozens of land claims across Canada with similar allegations of confiscated or misused land by CNR and its constituent companies. These claims include those made by six First Nations band councils in Quebec: the Abenakis of Wolinak, the Atikamekw of Wemotaci, the Kahnawake of the South Shore, the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg of Maniwaki, the Malcite of Viger, and the Montagnais of Lac St.-Jean
Brant speculated that CNR sued him in order to intimidate other native groups with similar land claims.
The militancy among members of the Mohawk nation – which includes his Tyendinaga community and the nearby community of Kahnawake – will not be diminished by the suit, according to Brant.
“They know we could never pay this money; filing these lawsuits is about bringing economic destruction to our lives. They haven’t got a hope in hell of ever collecting it,” he said. “The frustration of living through isolation, suicides, land claim issues for so many years is still here. We have been shit under people’s shoes, and now we’ve decided we will make the decisions about how we will live and how our children will live,” he said.
The Daily was unable to reach a representative from CNR by press time.