By Jorge Barrera and Jason Leroux
APTN National News
TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY–Mohawks from Tyendinaga and Akwesanse forced the shutdown of CN Rail’s track between Toronto and Ottawa for a little over three hours Saturday in response to the Harper government’s refusal to call a public inquiry to examine the high number of murdered and missing Indigenous women across the country.
The action also coincided with International Women’s Day.
The OPP arrested four people, including prominent Mohawk activist Shawn Brant and John Fox, whose daughter Cheyenne Fox was killed last April after she fell from the 24th floor of a Toronto condo.
The rail track shutdown ended after the Mohawks agreed to pull back in exchange for the release of Fox.
Eight freight trains and four VIA passenger trains were stranded during the shutdown which lasted from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., said Jim Feeny, spokesperson for CN.
“This is a long way from being over,” said John Fox, shortly after the OPP escorted him to his car which was parked near the rail line which crossed Wyman Rd. along the Tyendinaga reserve border, about 21 kilometres east of Belleville, Ont. “I want everyone to be united on this issue, be there for the women today.”
Toronto police ruled Cheyenne Fox’s death a suicide. Fox, who was a sex worker, was visiting the condo of a john at the time of her death.
John Fox said the OPP had planned to charge him with mischief. He was eventually released unconditionally.
OPP spokesperson Sgt. Kristine Rae said charges are pending for mischief, assault and “weapons dangerous” against the three others still in custody. Rae said she couldn’t release their names until they are officially charged Sunday. The three will appear via video conference with a justice of the peace either in Belleville, Napanee, Ont., or Ottawa, said Rae.
The Mohawks alerted CN at about 9:30 a.m. triggering the shut down. As the Mohawks moved in to take up their positions the OPP arrived and one of the windows of an unmarked cruiser was smashed. Fox and Brant were the first to be arrested. Then, two other men, nicknamed “Cracker” and “Ribs,” were arrested during hand-to-hand melee.
After the second round of arrests, two OPP Aboriginal liaison officers began negotiating with the Mohawks to end the rail shut down. By this time about 30 OPP officers and one CN Rail police officer positioned themselves two rows deep separating the about 17 remaining Mohawks from the south-side of rail track.
Several OPP trucks and cruisers were also gathered on the north side of the rail track. The OPP also blocked all roads leading to the north side of the tracks, which crossed Wyman Road. The Tyendinaga Mohawk Police also blocked the south side of Wyman Road, effectively sealing off the Mohawks.
At least one OPP officer was seen with an assault rifle.
The OPP liaison officer, who said her name was Joanne, led the negotiations for the OPP and tried to convince the Mohawks that their message on missing and murdered Indigenous women had been heard.
“I understand it’s an emotional time, it’s an emotional issue, I understand that,” said the liaison officer. “I understand tensions are high right now, let’s keep the dialogue open here.”
Dan Doreen, who acted as a spokesperson for the Mohawks, which included two men from Akwesasne and the rest from Tyendinaga, responded saying Friday’s report from the Parliamentary committee on violence against Indigenous women and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s refusal to call an inquiry left them with little choice. The Conservative-dominated committee of MPs did not include calling a public inquiry in its recommendations to the federal government.
“(Harper) showed nothing, showed no compassion to our Indigenous women, towards Native people in Canada in general and toward women in general,” said Doreen. “If it wasn’t for my family standing behind me, I have no problems throwing down.”
Joanne, the OPP liaison, then suggested there were other avenues through which they could press their issues like on Parliament Hill.
“Parliament Hill? You just sit out there in the cold and you get some piece of crap to come out and talk to you,” said Doreen.
Doreen said the only time First Nation people get results is when they take matters into their own hands like during Oka, Ipperwash and when the Tyendinaga Mohawks occupied a quarry on their claimed territory in 2007.
“You can’t tell me that peaceful protest and stuff like that works. It don’t. What works is being out here on the road,” he said.
Despite being out numbered, the Mohawks remained defiant throughout the standoff.
“We are trying to protect everybody, white and Native, but it takes these kind of people to show we are not sacred to fall down,” said George Zacharaiah. “I might be 70 years-old, but I guarantee it will take more than one of them to take me down.”
One man, who went by the name of Ahtonwa, said he was there for his sister.
“Aboriginal women are going missing and nobody is doing anything,” he said. “We deserve to be heard, we deserve to have this done, I know why I am here and everybody else knows why they are here and it’s worth the cost.”
The arrest of Fox, however, became a major concern for the Mohawks and they began pressing to have him released.
After Joanne relayed the request to her commander word returned that Fox would be freed if the standoff ended. The Mohawks then held a meeting on the road and agreed to the exchange.
Fox was escorted in from the north side of the tracks and met with cheers and whoops.
“I love you guys,” said Fox.
After a ceremony with tobacco, the Mohawks left in their vehicles, the red Warrior and purple Iroquois Confederacy flags snapping in the breeze.
“Until the next time,” said Doreen.
The trains began to run by about 1:30 p.m. The first freight train through pulled tanker cars.