Kahnawake Mohawks demand Indigenous rights be upheld as rail blockade peacefully ends

Members of the Mohawk community briefly block the highway to read a statement after removing their blockade of the commuter rail line, Thursday, March 5, 2020 in Kahnawake, Que. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

A blockade on the railway tracks in Kahnawake — which protesters from the Mohawk community set up nearly a month ago — has come to a peaceful end on Thursday.

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake confirmed the move in the afternoon and praised the dedication of the protesters, who took to the streets after the barricade fell.

After moving from the camp, they briefly stopped highway traffic before setting up a new location close to Highway 138, near the Mercier Bridge leading to Montreal.

“We demand the government of Canada to restore its relationships with the First Peoples of this country and uphold Indigenous rights,” said Roxann Whitebean.

READ MORE: Kahnawake allows CP Rail to inspect tracks

The dismantlement will “undoubtedly help alleviate pressure and leave room for the Wet’suwet’en people to consider the proposal being brought forth by Canada and British Columbia,” according to the council.

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“Even in 2020 it seems that it takes a crisis for governments to truly engage,” said Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton in a statement. “We have been advocating for meaningful dialogue in the interest of peace and safety for all people.”

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The Mohawk longhouse said in a statement that the removal of the blockade was done in good faith as the Wet’suwet’en people consider the draft agreement reached last week.

The blockade was first erected on Feb. 10 in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs after the RCMP moved into their traditional territory to give workers unobstructed access to the Coastal GasLink construction site.

Police intervention quickly sparked nationwide protests on railways across the country and questions over Indigenous land rights. The blockades led to service disruptions on freight and commuter rails.

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In Kahnawake, the blockade forced the cancellation of commuter trains on the Candiac line between Montreal and the south shore for more than three weeks. It also halted traffic for Canadian Pacific Railway.

Whitebean said the community wants to allow the Wet’suwet’en time to make a decision on the blockade, but that Mohawks continue to support them and will closely monitor the situation.

“Let this be a strong message and demonstration of good faith to all of Canada, we prefer a peaceful resolution and demand that Indigenous Peoples’ rights be respected,” said Whitebean.

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— With files from Global News’ Mike Armstrong and the Canadian Press

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