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Mohawks to march on, close international bridge

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MASSENA - Traffic along the Massena-Cornwall International Bridge will be shut down midday today, as a group of St. Regis Mohawks march across to protest amendments in Canadian law toward land and resources use policies.

Protestors will gather at 10 a.m. near the site of the former General Motors - Powertrain site, and will then march over the closed bridge. Once on the Canadian side, they will perform a dance at the Brookdale Avenue traffic circle in Cornwall, before turning and marching back, according to Officer Pierre Pilon, public information officer for the city of Cornwall Police Department.

The march is estimated to include some 100 demonstrators, according to Charles “Chaz” Kader, clerk of the men’s council of the People of the Way of the Longhouse.

Mr. Pilon said the bridge will be closed to all except emergency vehicles throughout the duration of the march, in order to ensure the safety of the demonstrators.

“The Cornwall Community Police Service is working with those involved to minimize the impact of the traveling public, to ensure order and for public safety,” Cornwall Police said in a statement. “In the best interest of those involved, the bridge (and) in the area of the traffic circle will be closed upon the protest starting.”

Mr. Pilon suggested demonstrators bring identification in order to pass through the U.S. and Canadian customs. The march will last a few hours, according to Mr. Kader.

The march is part of the Idle No More movement, which has quickly spread across Indian communities via social media in recent months. The movement has spawned rail blockades and flash mobs with dancing and drumming across the United States and Canada.

The movement speaks out against a bill by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, known as omnibus C-45. The bill alters regulations on the environment and waterways, and on companies seeking to buy reservation land.

“C-45 is one of several bills that have to do with ownership of the land, and the ability of the Mohawk government to voice its opinion of opposition to oil pipelines” on native lands, Mr. Kader said. “I think C-45 is an attempt to say big government knows more than the residents of the land.”

Mr. Kader said there is a disproportionately high number of oil pipelines on land owned by Native Americans in Canada, and believes recent legislation passed by the Canadian government has sought to marginalize the voice of the St. Regis tribal government.

“These are efforts of removing the voice of the people on that land,” Mr. Kader said.

Mr. Kader called the march a “grassroots effort,” and said the tribal government was not involved in organizing the demonstration.

“This is a new phenomenon. There is not one leader but many leaders in many groups” organizing the march, Mr. Kader said.

The demonstration will take place at the same time as another at the Peace Bridge, between Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ontario.

Mr. Kader said local demonstrators have been in touch with those in Western New York, but believes the two groups have different concerns in mind.

“The groups are not synchronized. There are different issues at play,” he said.

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