By MARK BONOKOSKI, Toronto Sun, 9th August 2009
LINDSAY — Mohawk activist Shawn Brant, his customary camouflage fatigues replaced by an orange prison jumpsuit, looks weary — and is weary. Weary of it all. “This one, this stint in prison, has been the hardest on me, and the hardest on my family,” he admits, speaking over a telephone intercom, and sitting behind protective glass at the provincial superjail here. Brant has been behind bars since June 10 — ironically the first anniversary of National Day of Reconciliation for Canada’s First Nations, and the federal government’s apology for the Indian residential schools — when approximately 100 OPP and First Nations police stormed in at dawn to end the Mohawk blockage of the Skyway Bridge near Deseronto.
And he will remain in jail until October’s end.
“I can’t say it is entirely over for me when it comes to my involvement in the cause,” says the father of four, the youngest only 18 months old. “All I can say is that I will give the next one, the next protest, a lot of thought.
“I am 45 now. I have been doing this for 19 years.
“Maybe it is time for someone younger to step up.”
It was back on July 22 that Justice Stephen Hunter sentenced Shawn Brant to five months in jail on mischief and failure to comply charges for his involvement in two separate road and bridge blockades on Tyendinaga land.
The last one, which tied up the Skyway Bridge linking Prince Edward County to Deseronto and Tyendinaga in early June, was erected in support of the Akwesasne Mohawks’ opposition down Cornwall way to the proposed arming of Canada Customs officers at the reserve’s border crossing.
“We have to speak as one otherwise we will not be heard,” says Brant, indicating the blockade was not his decision, but a “longhouse” decision made by the Mohawk on his reserve. “Had they consulted with our community beforehand, there might not have been a need for the protest.
“But they didn’t. Instead of consulting, and perhaps compromising, they simply imposed.
“The Mohawk are a sovereign nation,” says Brant. “How can we be sovereign if we are imposed upon at will?”
Shawn Brant is not new to Judge Hunter who, in the course of his many years on the bench in the Belleville area, has sent Brant off to jail on so many occasions that Brant cannot recall any time in almost two decades that he has not been in jail, on probation, or under strict bail conditions.
Judge Hunter, however, is also so aware of the frustrations of the residents of Tyendinaga — unsafe drinking water, inadequate housing, etc. — that he admitted in court that Brant’s sentencing on this occasion was personally “difficult” for him to hand down, and even urged the various levels of government to better address the issues on Tyendinaga land.
“You are an articulate representative of what those frustrations are,” Hunter told Brant. “But you understand I am required to ensure the laws of this country are respected.”
Back in December, following a 15-part series published here on the urban aboriginal — entitled The Red Road — an e-mail arrived from Shawn Brant regarding a segment written on some of the issues facing Tyendinaga.
“The story on Tyendinaga truly reflected the daily struggle of our people and gives purpose to the cause,” he wrote. “I will be going back to jail soon, and will do so with honour. My six-year-old son tells his friends that his dad goes to jail so they can drink out of the fountains at school.”
Eight months later, true to his word, Shawn Brant was indeed back in jail — but wearying.
When visited early last week, his unit was in its fourth day of lockdown, meaning all inmates were confined to their cells around the clock — no reason given.
According to Brant, the inmates in Five Pod are primarily black or First Nations.
“It’s the same old, same old,” he says, more matter of factly than troubled or judgmental.
When Brant finally gets out of jail at the end of October, however, he will experience a rather novel situation.
For the first time in almost two decades, he will not be shackled by a period of probation.
In sentencing Brant, Judge Hunter imposed no restrictions upon his release.
He will return to Tyendinaga untethered.