by DARIEN LAMEN
(WXIR-Rochester) The trains are running again in eastern Canada this week, after indigenous-led protests in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders paralyzed the rail system for nearly a month.
Last Monday, Ontario Provincial Police moved in on a rail blockade organized by members of the Mohawk Nation, arresting 10 people in the process.
But Rochester-born Mohawk Ronald Garrow says new camps have sprung up along the railway since then, and that protests are ongoing throughout Ontario, Quebec, even New York.
"There's still a presence in Tyendinaga. They call it Camp A and Camp B. People holding signs," Garrow says. "At this point, they're not blocking the tracks."
Last weekend, Garrow headed up to Tyendinaga Mohawk territory to drop off supplies donated by Rochester-area activists with Rochester Extinction Rebellion and the group Rochester Solidarity with Wet'suwet'en.
Although he has dual US-Canadian citizenship, Garrow says Canadian Customs officers temporarily took his phone and held him for an hour at the border.
"I told them I was going to Tyendinaga. They said, what you do have? I told them I had camping supplies. They said why do you have camping supplies? And I said because we need them for things. That's when I got pulled in," Garrow says.
Garrow says officers searched his car, then let him go. But not before one officer asked him where the next blockade was going to happen.
"I told him, I can't tell you that. Which he thought was funny. And I laughed, and then he said 'Have a nice day,' and I left."
Garrow was able to reach the camps at Tyendinaga by Saturday night, where he says people from around the region had come to keep watch in spite of the cold.
"The people who were there... everybody was very proud of what they were doing and they cared a lot about what was happening," Garrow explains.
"Lots of words of encouragement. People would stop by and honk, and get out and say, 'Thank you for what you're doing we really admire it.'"
Beginning on February 6, heavily armed officers with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) carried out dozens of arrests on Wet’suwet’en territory in a remote region hundreds of miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Wet’suwet’en land defenders have been in a standoff with the fossil fuel industry for years over the construction of a multi-billion dollar natural gas pipeline on their territory.
The recent rail blockades are among many solidarity protests whose central demand has been the withdrawal of Canadian police from Wet'suwet'en territory.
Garrow says railways are not just strategic targets for the ongoing protest actions. For Native people, they’re also historically and symbolically significant.
"This began way back when they put the railroad through land that was allotted to Native people after they stole the other land for themselves. They came through without consent, destroyed food sources, killed the buffalo to near extinction while building the railroads."
"Native people have been allotted less than 2% of North America. And for some reason these federal projects continue to go through indigenous land. Like pipelines, railroads, power lines, international bridges. I guess in order to not inconvenience themselves."
Two weeks ago Canadian police said they had shut down their mobile unit in Wet’suwet’en.
And on Monday, the Canadian government announced it had reached a tentative "agreement" with Wet’suwet’en leaders. If approved, the deal would recognize the right of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs to make decisions related to land use going forward. Wet'suwet'en territory was never ceded to the Canadian government.
But, as Garrow points out, those talks don’t touch on one very central issue.
"What's been in discussion is how can we keep this from happening again. What they are not discussing is how are we going to keep this from happening right now," Garrow says.
Coastal GasLink said it would resume construction of the pipeline on March 2nd.
"The pipeline needs to be diverted off of Wet'suwet'en land. That is the standard that needs to be met before any protests end. And that has not been agreed upon," Garrow says.
Mohawk protesters arrested in Ontario during last month’s rail blockade are due in court on March 24th with some conservative lawmakers in Canada calling for them to be charged with terrorism.
"If anyone needs the label terrorist it would be the Canadian police force," Garrow says in response. "They're the ones that have assault weapons. They're the ones with clubs. They're the ones with mace. They're the ones that are trespassing."
DARIEN LAMEN is news producer/director for WXIR Community Radio. He can reached at email@example.com