KAHNAWAKE, Que. - Mohawks manning a barricade that has disrupted rail traffic near Montreal said Wednesday they'll remain in place as long as the RCMP is present on territory of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation in northern British Columbia.
About a dozen people milled about the site, which featured Mohawk flags, a sign expressing solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en and a mound of snow pushed onto the railway tracks. Children played in the snow, and other supporters came by to sit by a fire or replenish the store of coffee and donuts.
Some protesters said they could stay put for weeks or months if need be — but they said they'll take their cue from Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in B.C. opposing construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
Tekarontake, a Kahnawake Mohawk, said the conflict, which has triggered Indigenous actions across the country, is the result of a failure by governments and others to accept that the land belongs to the people who continue to adhere to the ways of their ancestors.
"That's whose land this is, we have never disconnected ourselves from our mother. This land is our mother," he said. "We haven't abandoned her, we still love her, we care for her and we will defend her to the best of our ability." He said for the blockade to end, Canada will have to "come to its senses."
The blockade in southern Quebec began Saturday as RCMP officers in B.C. enforced an injunction requiring pipeline opponents to clear the way for construction. Commuter train service on the line has been halted since Monday morning.
On Wednesday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault called on the federal government to do more to help resolve the anti-pipeline protests that are disrupting rail service across the country.
"I would hope that the federal government would work more with us on this problem, which is a Canadian problem," Legault told reporters. "What's more, it is a problem related to transportation, which is a federal jurisdiction, it's an issue related to aboriginals, which is a shared jurisdiction, so I do not understand why (Transport Minister Marc) Garneau and the federal government do not want to get involved with us in the matter."
Tekarontake shrugged off the inconvenience faced by those who use the rail line. "Everything inconveniences them anyways," he said. "But they still get to work. There are still buses, cars."
One Kahnawake community member, a father and grandfather who didn't want his name used, said he's been coming by periodically with wood to keep the fire going.
"It's a symbol — they know that we're standing with them in northern B.C.," he said. He added that no one at the barricade wishes to see tensions escalate.
Dwayne Zacharie, chief of Kahnawake's Peacekeepers police force, said his members are ensuring community members are safe.
The tracks in question running between Montreal and Albany, N.Y., belong to CP Rail, which has halted freight shipments on the line.
"CP has been impacted by the blockades and continues to monitor the situation closely," the Calgary-based company said in an email.
Exo, which runs the commuter trains on the affected line, said it is making decisions daily on whether service can resume. Since Monday, it has been hiring buses to provide shuttle service to the roughly 3,000 daily passengers who have seen train service halted between Montreal and several suburban towns southwest of the city.
Louis-Andre Bertrand, a spokesman for the transit authority, said a shortage of drivers and buses in the Montreal area could force it to resort to school buses if the closure of the line continues.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2020.