Minister wraps up meeting with Mohawk First Nation members over blockades

WATCH: Indigenous services minister meets with protesters

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller emerged from an hours-long meeting with members of the Mohawk First Nation on Saturday evening, saying he has messages to deliver to the prime minister and cabinet.

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“I’ve had some great conversations, some very tough ones and some very serious ones, and that’s what I’m going to take back to the prime minister and cabinet tonight and then we’ll move forward in respect and peace,” Miller told reporters after the meeting ended.

He said the meeting made “some modest progress” by opening up dialogue.

“We talked openly, frankly, painfully at times and sometimes with humour,” he said.

Miller said there is more work to do.

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“There’s a lot more work to be done and I have a few messages that I need to go back to the prime minister, who I’ll be reaching out to tonight, and discussing with my cabinet about what the next steps are,” he said.

He added that the issues at stake are not new: “The underlying issues did not arise yesterday. They’ve been present in the case of this community for hundreds of years.”

But ultimately the focus is on B.C., he said.

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“So there needs to be some work that needs to be done quite expeditiously in short order to resolve this situation,” Miller said.

“But if and when we resolve this, my hope is this is resolved in a peaceful process because the people in that room are dedicated to peace.”

Speaking ahead of his meetings, Marc Miller had not wanted to predict the outcome. He earlier said dialogue 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 British Columbia.

He met with protesters at the blockade before travelling further into the First Nation for the private meeting.

The blockade on Tyendinaga Mohawk territory near Belleville, Ont., was in its 10th day on Saturday.

When asked by reporters on Saturday why it took so long to schedule a meeting, Miller said “it had to be done in the proper way,” and that he “had to be invited.”

“They build on consensus,” Miller said. “So they spent a long day yesterday deciding how this day would go, and now I’m invited to come in.”

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.

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According to the Assembly of First Nations, the Covenant Chain represents one of the earliest treaties between the Crown and First Nations peoples and helped to establish the foundation for the relationship between them.

The belt shows that the Crown is “linked by a chain to the First Nations peoples of this land.”

The chain, made from silver, symbolizes that the relationship needs to be polished from time to time, to keep it from tarnishing. Its three links represent a “covenant of friendship, good minds and the peace” between the Crown and First Nations peoples.

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Similar blockades across the country have cut both passenger and freight rail services, with pressure mounting on the federal government to end them. A protest at Canadian National Railway’s McMillan Yard just north of Toronto and another on a rail line in east Vancouver on Saturday were among those affecting train services.

According a press release from Toronto Wet’suwet’en Solidarity, the blockade was put in place at 10 a.m. ET, halting all train lines going westward to Hamilton, London, New York and Michigan.

“While CN has already shut down railways lines in Eastern Canada, this blockade initiated today shuts down railway lines going west,” the release reads.

York Regional Police said officers were at the scene “to ensure everybody’s safety,” but would not say whether they were talking with protesters in a bid to get them off the tracks.

In an email to Global News, CN Rail said that police were “responding to a protest on CN tracks in Vaughan, Ont.,” and that train movement had been stopped.

“We are monitoring the situation and evaluating our legal options very closely,” the email reads.

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.”

CN 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.

When one such document was delivered to the Vaughan, Ont., demonstrators over the weekend, it was set ablaze on the train tracks.

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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.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney maintained his criticism of the protests.

“Fascinating to see champions of wokeness suddenly embrace hereditary patriarchy as a preferred governance model,” he tweeted.

A growing number of business leaders and industry groups called for government or police intervention in the shutdowns.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected a suggestion from federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to have the public safety minister use his authority under the RCMP Act to end what he called the “illegal blockades.”

Trudeau said the dispute must be resolved through dialogue, while acknowledging the blockades have caused disruption for travellers and businesses.

With files from Global News

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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