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‘We’ve been working night and day’ to resolve blockades: Kahnawake grand chief

Grand Chief Joe Norton on the 14th day of rail blockades
Demonstrations from northwestern B.C. to Montreal’s south shore are stretching well into their second week, with emotions running high as economic consequences mount. Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawa:ke Joe Norton sits down with Global’s Dan Spector to unpack the situation.

The grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake warns that even after the current rail blockades across Canada come to an end, Indigenous people will still expect to be taken more seriously as both partners and owners of their traditional lands.

In an interview with Global News Morning, Joseph Tokwiro Norton declined to “debate” remarks on Tuesday by Quebec Premier François Legault on the potential for shortages of propane and jet fuel should ongoing blockades of railway tracks in British Columbia, eastern Ontario and on Kahnawake’s territory on the south shore of Montreal continue.

Instead, Norton emphasized that both sides of the ongoing conflict seem to be working in good faith to resolve the situation.

“We’ve been working night and day to come to solutions, to come to a mind where there’s an ability to identify what needs to be done at this moment,” he said.

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READ MORE: 61% of Canadians oppose Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades, 75% back action to help Indigenous people: poll

Norton added that “once this situation is over, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of it,” saying that discussions between Indigenous peoples and governments need to continue beyond current efforts to resolve the rail blockades.

The rail blockades have sprung up as demonstrations to show solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northwestern British Columbia, whose hereditary chiefs have clashed in recent weeks with RCMP on their traditional territory over the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project.

The most high-profile solidarity protest has been on rail tracks near the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in eastern Ontario, which have forced the shutdown of most of the Canadian National Railway’s network east of Manitoba, as well as the suspension of most Via Rail services.

Meanwhile, demonstrations on the Canadian Pacific-owned tracks running through Kahnawake have led to the suspension of Exo’s Line 4 Candiac — a commuter train line which shuttles thousands of south shore commuters to downtown Montreal each day — for nearly two weeks.

READ MORE: Why the 1990 Oka Crisis is being evoked amid the Wet’suwet’en pipeline dispute

Norton said he was hopeful the ongoing demonstrations would not go on for too much longer.

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“We care about the reaction of our neighbours,” he said.

But he also expressed frustration that some governments have continued to act as though calls to “respect the rule of law” do not apply to Indigenous laws and Indigenous territory.

“People should come to the table on a level playing field, rather than the federal and provincial governments saying, ‘We’re the law,'” he said.

“Those days should be over and done with.”

READ MORE: Trudeau says rail blockades need to be resolved but offers no clear plan