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Updated: Feb 1, 2022

That’s the call. The Canadian government for decades has refused to work out its relationship with the Indigenous people in British Columbia who never ceded their territories or their governance systems. Now that someone badly wants to jam a pipeline through there, there are problems.

When the Unist’ot’en of the Wet’suwet’en refused to give the gas company that permission, they were met with assault rifles and snipers. In support of the dangerously isolated Wet’suwet’en, the Mohawk people of Tyendinaga near Belleville also gave Canada a polite refusal of access to the rail lines that have run through their territory for over a century without free, prior and informed consent. This was done with great good nature: with a notice and an encampment by the tracks, and an invitation to meet Nation to Nation, once that courtesy has been extended to the Wet’suwet’en.

These easy-going Tyendinaga folks were arrested and removed, and now there is chaos on the rails across Canada. On February 25, when Rising Tide Toronto and Toronto Wet’suwet’en Solidarity organized a direct action on the railway near Lambton Arena (Jane and Dundas Streets), Lev Jaeger and I (both UJPO members) were there, in different roles. I stayed clear of the tracks and observed, took pictures and recordings from about 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.

A spate of early arrests gave rise to the concern that the action would be over within an hour. Those unwilling to be arrested retreated to the public side of the fence, where they stayed for hours and carried out vital support — helping newly arrived resisters over the fence, offering samosas and blankets. When a group of reinforcements walked up the track, the police turned most of them back but one guy walked right by them to join the group on the rails. His mother brought Lev up right!

The scariest moment was just after dark when a phalanx of 45-60 cops jack-booted up the track. The thirty or so young people on the track hunkered down, big-eyed but brave. When the cops broke formation it looked like we might be in for a police riot, but instead they ran past us to stop people from climbing over the fence to reach the track. They turned out to be a decent lot — they took a fair bit of abuse and still let pizzas and donuts pass over the fence.

It was an odd and vital scene, with lots of cultures clashing. Medicine songs were followed by sassy chants and some interesting challenges to the police, like: “When your grandchildren ask you what you did during this time, what are you going to tell them? That you were on the opposing team?” When some activists degenerated into insults, Indigenous speakers would remind them to stay positive, and start a song.

Lev Jaeger was carried off the tracks at about 3 a.m. and says the action ended shortly after. The shutdown probably lasted about ten hours — a successful show of solidarity. If Trudeau and his caucus don’t learn to respect the “Nation to Nation” relationships he campaigned on, there will be many more actions to come.

Deb O’Rourke

Link to Deb’s story in NOW Magazine:

Photos: Deb O’Rourke

To scroll through photos, hover over the middle of the right side of the picture and click.

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