Native protesters won’t budge
Posted By Jeremy Ashley
Belleville Intelligencer [Ontario]
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Native protesters who seized a major portion of this small Hastings County town pledged Monday to maintain the disruption for a week to send a message to any would-be developers of disputed native lands.
“Not another shovel in the ground,” said protest spokesman Dan Doreen, standing outside a roadway blockade of Old Highway 2 on the eastern fringe of town.
“That mandate was set in 2006 and it still stands – we’re here to protect our land and that’s it,” promised Doreen, who was clad in camouflage with a red bandana tied around his left arm.
The move to set up the demonstration – which closed traffic on Deseronto Road and about a 200-metre stretch of Old Highway 2 on the eastern side of the town – began late Sunday afternoon in response to “threats” made by Yarker-area construction firm Nibourg Developments to begin clearing land for construction along a disputed tract of native land.
Ontario Provincial Police officers set up roadblocks at all ends of the demonstration, diverting both vehicle and pedestrian traffic away from the scene throughout the day.
In the early morning hours, there were a few skirmishes between protesters and town residents – incidents that prompted a heavy police presence on the western side of the demonstration to move within a few metres of protesters for a brief period of time.
However, after speaking with Doreen and other organizers, police moved back to their original positions, which was a few hundred metres away from a banner erected by protesters proclaiming “Deseronto has been closed!”
While the developer and his crew decided to stay away Monday, native protesters – many of whom had been occupying the nearby quarry on Deseronto road – said they plan to continue with the blockade for at least a week.
“We’ve been stuck in the quarry for a year, so what’s a week?” Doreen explained, noting the protester’s frustrations with antagonistic behaviour displayed by Emile Nibourg on behalf of his company.
“He called us on to be here and he’s not here,” Doreen said, “He’s too coward to show his face. Many of our people have taken time away from their jobs to be here, and he just doesn’t show. He’s a coward.”
Nibourg’s firm issued a statement Monday, saying the company’s construction crews would not be attending “in the name of public safety.”
The statement called upon federal and provincial governments to resolve the dispute and its inaction “is leading to unrest between the natives and non-natives, putting all people at great risk.
“Today’s large protest and occupation of our land proves that this explosive situation will only intensify without government action.” Nibourg’s move to challenge protesters publicly caught the ire of Tyendinaga Mohawk Chief R. Donald Maracle.
In a sharply-worded statement, Maracle said the band council didn’t condone the actions of protesters but he believed Nibourg’s actions were a publicity event to incite the demonstration.
“We are informed that the developer has no building permits in place and the municipalities and the county have no bylaws in place to permit development on the land,” Maracle stated. “Therefore, the announcement seems to have been staged more as a media event to draw attention to the interests of individuals.
“The Culbertson Tract Claim should not be about protests, blockades or civil disputes between our people and our neighbours,” the chief added.
“People need to remain calm and allow for peaceful negotiations to continue in a climate not hampered by protests and blockades. Directing our energy and focus to negotiations with the Crown is more productive and responsible than sensationalized confrontation.” For Doreen and his crew, however, the purpose behind the blockade was simple.
“We are the defender of the land and that’s where it is,” he said, acknowledging none in his party were at the negotiating table with the federal government.
“In no way is he (Nibourg) going to build – it is our land,” he said.
While speaking with members of the media, Doreen was clear on any threat of altercations involving police, protesters or the public.
“We’re not in a fight with the OPP – we have to be peaceful,” he said, adding his group would not “provoke physical violence at all,” during the course of the demonstration.