UPDATE: Protesters block tracks and highway
Traffic was delayed on Highway 16 and Highway 1 northbound, as Idle No More protesters blocked the railway crossing at the Yellowhead junction.
Protesters attended from Roseau River, Long Plain, Sandy Bay, Swan Lake, and Dauphin River First Nations as well as surrounding areas to support the Idle No More cause. Protesters blocked a major CN Rail route that carries both freight and passenger cars from noon until 6 p.m. as well as blocking Highway 16 periodically.
Former Roseau River First Nation Chief Terrance Nelson, one of the event organizers, gave a number of rousing speeches to the protesters gathered that were met with cheers and much drumming.
“There is only one reason why we’re here because our children are going to have a future, our children are going to have land, our children are going to be sovereign in our own land and for that we will put our lives down any time,” said Nelson to protesters. “I want to make sure the people across this country understand that we did our part here in Manitoba. They said January 16 we will have a national day for national action, and we have done our part here. Today we send a message that we have never lived on anyone’s good graces. These are our lands, and we are not begging anybody for anything.”
Due to the CN railway blockade, the company issued an injunction against Nelson and Dancing Bear who they listed as John Doe to halt the protest and vacate the premises. Protesters did not follow the injunction’s instructions.
"An illegal blockade was set up on our main line near Portage La Prairie at noon local time. We are taking the necessary steps to protect our employees, customers, and facilities. We've stopped train traffic in the immediate area while we determine what our response will be. This is an illegal blockade and we have obtained a court injunction. We've also been in touch with local authorities," said Jim Feeny, a spokesman for CN in a statement.
Nelson left the protest at approximately 4 p.m. He gave a speech and sang with the protesters before he departed.
“So I ask you, not because of a court injunction, not because of any piece of paper, to think about regrouping. We will leave here at 4 p.m., those of you that want to leave. Those of you that are willing to stay do what you think is right. It is your choice, you decide what you want to do,” said Nelson.
He confirmed that he did plan to fight the injunction in court.
“In 2007 we won in the court. We told them this is our land. CN may have a title, that title comes from the Government of Canada. But where the hell does the Government of Canada get its title?” asked Nelson. “It came from us and the only rights that the immigrants have is the treaty. We’re not running from here, we’re not retreating, but we have made our point. Let us rethink this and we will come again. We will be back.”
After Nelson’s departure many of the protesters left as well. A small group remained that then proceeded to block Highway 16 permanently, with four protesters linking arms across the roadway and logs covering the rest of the road.
Soon after RCMP lead by Portage la Prairie detachment commander Ron Russell approached the group looking to speak with the protest’s ‘leader’ Terrance Nelson. Russell added they would be happy to speak with him. Some of the protesters responded by yelling, ‘Shame on you” at the police and saying the protest had no leaders.
Later in the blockade police returned to ask the protesters politely to allow a group of semis to pass through the road and the protesters refused. The blockade continued with a small core of protesters huddling in the dark in the middle of the road, with media and southbound traffic watching and waiting to see if the blockade would end or if police would act.
In the end the blockade ended peacefully at around 6 p.m. with the group huddling to pray together before clearing the roadway. No arrests were made.
Peter Yellowquill, former chief of Long Plain First Nation, was among the last to leave the protest. He called the gathering a victory for the cause.
“It was an absolute victory. We’re gone for the evening but the whole thing is not done. We’re going to watch what happens across the country, of course, and then take it from there,” said Yellowquill.