Kanesatake grand chief retracts rail blockade comments amid community backlash

Grand Chief Serge Simon, Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, says it wasn't his place to make such remarks. John Woods/The Canadian Press

The grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake is walking back his remarks to lift railway blockades sweeping the county.

Serge Otsi Simon apologized on Wednesday following backlash in the community, saying it wasn’t his place to make those comments.

“It is not my place to make such judgment,” he said in a statement. “I leave it up to the people on the ground and Wet’suwet’en Nation leadership to make such calls.”

Story continues below advertisement

Simon had concerns about the actions, but he said that “sometimes as a leader, you have to know when to lead and when to follow.”

“I am now deciding to follow the people.”

READ MORE: Quebec premier tells Trudeau to set deadline to end rail blockades

The nationwide protests are in support of the hereditary chiefs in Wet’suwet’en Nation in northwestern British Columbia who oppose the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through unceded territory.

The blockades, which began two weeks ago, have led to service disruptions on commuter and freight railways and triggered layoffs at both Canadian National Railway and Via Rail.

After Simon suggested dismantling the blockades during a press conference on Tuesday, a group of protesters started blocking the entrance to Kanesatake band council offices that evening.

“We cannot lose the good faith that we have built over the past 10 years with the Canadian public,” he said on Tuesday during a news conference with other chiefs to address the situation.

Simon urged for calm as National Chief Perry Bellegarde said that governments must provide time and space to work with the Wet’suwet’en people as protests continue.

Click to play video: 'Railway blockades continue across Ontario' Railway blockades continue across Ontario
Railway blockades continue across Ontario – Feb 19, 2020

While the doors to his office remained chained early Wednesday, Simon said he hopes he will be able to access it soon.

Story continues below advertisement

“I apologize for any harm or confusion arising from my remarks,” he said.

Quebec Premier François Legault, for his part, has called on Ottawa to set a firm deadline to dismantle the blockades.

He said if the deadline isn’t met, Legault said police could be called in to put an end to the rail stoppages. He claims the province will soon face a shortage of goods if service does not resume.

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

With files from the Canadian Press

Sponsored content