List of native conflicts grows as six protesters arrested at Pembroke gravel quarry

Posted by admin on May 22nd, 2009

By Brendan Kennedy, The Ottawa Citizen; with files from The Montreal Gazette. May 22, 2009
The arrest Wednesday of six First Nations protesters near Pembroke could be a part of what is shaping up to be a summer of discontent among Ontario natives frustrated over a growing list of outstanding issues. The protesters, led by Grant Tysick, chief of the Kinounchepirini Algonquin, were arrested in the early morning after a 34-hour blockade of a gravel quarry west of Pembroke. The blockade at Eastway Developments on Henan Road was broken up by Upper Ottawa Valley OPP officers and members of the OPP’s Emergency Response Team around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. The men were arrested without incident and there were no physical confrontations of any kind, police said.

The Algonquins oppose Eastway’s resource extraction without compensation as well as the company’s plans to build a subdivision on what they consider to be traditional Algonquin land.

Tysick said the community is willing to let both projects go ahead as long as Eastway consults with the community and agrees to negotiate with them for a share of the resources and profits.

Eastway Developments president Dan Bedard did not return the Citizen’s phone calls Thursday, but the company’s vice-president, Jimmy Lapointe, told the Pembroke Daily Observer on Tuesday that the blockade was “a totally illegal act.”

Another native protest was expected today at noon by members of the Beausoleil First Nation in Simcoe County. A press release issued by the Union of Ontario Indians said natives were planning what was described as a peaceful protest against a landfill now under construction near Georgian Bay. The landfill, known as Site 41, is only eight kilometres from Georgian Bay and adjacent to the Tiny Marsh Bird Sanctuary.

On May 9, a protest by hundreds of Mohawks temporarily closed the Seaway International Bridge at Cornwall. Natives there are upset by government plans to arm border guards at a customs checkpoint on the Akwesasne reserve. Mohawks claim arming border guards is a violation of their sovereignty and endangers the lives of community members who make frequent crossings to the U.S. section of the reserve.

These grievances join a list of other issues still simmering.

In Ottawa, plans for redevelopment of the former Rockcliffe air base have been on hold since 2007 due to an extensive land claim by Ontario Algonquins. Negotiations are ongoing.

Two years ago, near Sharbot Lake, a blockade by two groups of Algonquins held up exploratory drilling for uranium. A deal was struck late last year to allow limited drilling by the mining company, Frontenac Ventures.

In April and June 2007 in the Bay of Quinte area, Highway 401 and the CN rail tracks were blockaded by Mohawk protest leader Shaun Brant. His own Tyendinaga band and national native leaders attempted to distance themselves from Brant’s actions, and he eventually received a three-month conditional sentence.

In Caledonia, just outside Hamilton, it has been more than three years since members of the Six Nations blockaded a street for a month to protest construction of a subdivision. That was followed last year by a six-day blockade of the Caledonia highway overpass. Last Friday, OPP charged an Oshweken man with pubic mischief for his part in the protest, according to media reports in the Hamilton area. Talks in the land dispute continue.

Meanwhile, in Pembroke, all six protesters who took part in the blockade of the quarry were charged with mischief for obstructing lawful use of property. Tysick was the only one held by police and he was released after agreeing to bail conditions that prohibit his involvement in any other protests and prevent him from associating with the other protesters. Tysick is scheduled to appear in court on June 2.

Tysick said Thursday he plans to abide by the conditions of his release, and he’s hopeful that another blockade won’t be necessary.

Ottawa lawyer Michael Swinwood is representing the protesters.

“The position that we maintain would be that the OPP and the province of Ontario are outside their jurisdiction,” he said. “So they’re essentially the ones that are acting illegally and not the sovereign Algonquins.”

Swinwood said he plans to apply for a writ of prohibition on the charges against the protesters in order to take the jurisdiction claims to a higher court.

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