The federal Indigenous services minister began meetings Saturday with representatives of the Mohawk Nation to discuss a rail blockade that has shut down rail services across Eastern Canada.
Marc Miller said he didn’t want to predict the outcome of his meetings, adding that talk between the two sides is needed as members of the Mohawk Nation block the line in support of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en in their opposition to a natural gas pipeline across their traditional territory in northern B.C.
“This is a situation that is very tense, very volatile, there are some people that have been standing out there for days, so today is a chance to talk and have a real discussion,” he said.
“We’re a nation of people who have stopped talking to each other. We tweet, we make statements on Facebook, we go around asking, condemning, but we’re not talking.”
He met with protesters at the blockade before travelling further into the First Nation for a private meeting.
The blockade on Tyendinaga Mohawk territory near Belleville, Ont., is in its 10th day.
Miller requested the meeting to “polish the silver covenant chain,” which the Mohawks say refers to one of the original agreements between the First Nation and the Crown.
Similar blockades across the country have cut both passenger and freight rail services, with pressure mounting on the federal government to end them.
As he arrived in Tyendinaga, Miller said the blockades have been divisive.
“All of Canada is hurting,” he added. “The economy is slowing down. Everyone knows the reports about supply shortages, but we can’t move forward without dialogue.”
He also acknowledged that First Nations have felt alienated in Canada.
“I can’t guarantee what the outcome will be. It isn’t mine to judge,” the minister said. “And so I’m here to discuss in peace and friendship with a bunch of people that haven’t felt part of this country.”
Canadian National Railway obtained a court injunction to end the demonstration on Feb. 7, but the Ontario Provincial Police have not enforced it.
An injunction in B.C. was enforced earlier this month by the RCMP to give Coastal GasLink access to a work site for the pipeline, which is part of a $40-billion LNG Canada export project in Kitimat.
Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route. However, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs assert title to a vast 22,000-square-kilometre area and say band councils only have authority over reserve lands.
A growing number of business leaders and industry groups called for government or police intervention in the shutdowns, and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer took up the cry on Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the disruptions must be resolved through dialogue, not by ordering in the police. He acknowledged the difficulties the blockades have caused for travellers and businesses, but he said the federal government has no plans to make the RCMP dismantle them.
“We are not the kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters,” Trudeau said in Munich, Germany, where he was attending a global security conference.
“We are a country that recognizes the right to protest, but we are a country of the rule of law. And we will ensure that everything is done to resolve this through dialogue and constructive outcomes.”
The Canadian Press