by Mike B. Basics #11 (November 2008)
On September 29, Shawn Brant, a spokesperson of the Mohawk Nation, was convicted of a mischief charge for taking part in a series of highway and rail blockades in 2007. The crown had been asking for 12 years jail time but had to back off after details about the OPP’s corrupt handling of the situation became public. This included evidence that the OPP did not follow their own guidelines, set up illegal wiretaps, mobilized snipers and armored personnel carriers, and gathered evidence on protests while posing as journalists. OPP commissioner Julian Fantino would have been subpoenaed had the case continued and Brant gone to trial.
The Mohawks of Tyendinaga have been struggling to achieve justice, despite the consistently poor response on the part of the Canadian Government to unresolved land claims from all over the country. Many of the people in Tyendinaga have not had access to clean drinking water for at least 10 years. In Tyendinaga their struggle has taken the form of economic disruption, which has included road and rail closures and the disruption of businesses profiting from the unresolved lands. The current campaign began in November 2006, when Mohawks announced that they would stop the construction of a subdivision on the Culbertson Tract, which is part of Tyendinaga’s land claims. There was a blockade of a military convoy on the reserve that month. In March 2007, a quarry that had been operating on the Culbertson Tract was shut down permanently. On April 20th the C.N. main rail line running through the territory was closed for 30 hours. Again, during the National Aboriginal Day of Action on June 29th, 2007 the C.N. main line, Highway 2, and the 401 were targeted and closed for 24 hours.
On June 26th, 2008 Brant was released after more than two months in jail. Brant was being held on false charges alleging he had assaulted a white local businessman during road blockades that began on April 20th 2008. Brant challenged two local racists from neighboring Deseronto, ON, after they attacked a small group of mainly Mohawk women and children. The blockade had been erected the day before, targeting a land development on stolen Mohawk land. One man flew into a rage when he was turned back at the roadblock, swinging a bat at protesters, and even hitting a woman with his car. Although residents of Tyendinaga called 911, the police never laid any charges against the violent racists. Brant arrived at the scene and demanded that the attackers leave, and was consequently arrested several days later. At the time, Brant was living under strict conditions imposed as part of his bail from the June 2007 Aboriginal Day of Action, and was not even taking part in the blockade. Brant was arrested and held in pre-trial custody.
Shawn Brant is now facing one year probation and was ordered to stay on the Tyendinaga reserve for three months as a result of the recent convictions. There are at least 16 other members of the Mohawk Nation still facing charges from their participation of actions in defense of their communities.