Tyendinaga and The Struggle for the Land

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Peter Rosenthal: Lawyer with Roach, Schwartz, and Associates
Shawn Brant: Tyendinaga MT, and more...

More than forty days after the Mohawks of Tyendinaga reclaimed a portion of the Culbertson Tract, the community continues to hold strong and the Ontario government continues its refusal to revoke the license legitimizing the quarry operation located on the land.

Over the past month, the battle for the Culbertson has escalated on all sides. In the face of government refusal to reverse an age-old act of robbery and injustice, the Mohawks of Tyendinaga blockaded rail lines running through stolen land for upwards of 30 hours. Dozens of trains were stopped, business as usual in Ontario was ground to a halt, and the Canadian public was forced to consider the hundreds of years of 'inconvenience' lived by First Nations peoples. The community removed the blockade once this message had been sent.

In response, CN Rail has served suit against three Tyendinaga community members and the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (MBQ) Band Council in an unprecedented move, for 'damages arising from a First Nations blockade of its tracks' to the tune of $108 million. CN is also seeking a ban on future blockades. Furthermore, criminal charges have been laid against Mohawk spokesperson Shawn Brant. The decision to press charges came directly from OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino. Toronto lawyer Peter Rosenthal will be in court next week, for an initial appearance regarding the civil suit filed by CN Rail.

The Culbertson Tract, was stolen from the Mohawks in 1832. And while the government and the Mohawks began in 2003 to negotiate a deal to repatriate the land, and compensate the community for its losses, the land in question continued to be exploited by non-native developers while the negotiations dragged on.

While the government stalled, the land itself was literally being trucked away by quarry operator Thurlow Aggregates at a rate of more than 100,000 tonnes per year. Additonally, illegal dumping of waste was allowed to continue at the quarry, undiscovered until the rightful holders of the land reclaimed it in March.

Now this robbery has been stopped. Rock from the quarry is being used on the Territory. But the Mohawks of Tyendinaga continue to demand an expedient and just return of the land to their community. It has been more than 170 years too long. Join us to hear more about the struggle for the Culbertson Tract.

This event is hosted by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

For more information, please contact:
OCAP at 416.925.6939 ocap@tao.ca

OCAP Radio interview
Follow this link (1) or this link (2) to listen to interviews with Shawn Brant, spokesperson, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory conducted for
OCAP Radio on February 28th and April 5th, 2007

RAIL BLOCKADE (CP/Jonathan Hayward - PHOTO)
Bay of Quinte Mohawks block the train tracks just north of Deseronto, Ont. on Friday April 20

While the Mohawks and Ottawa negotiated for the land, the land itself was disappearing

Published in GLOBE AND MAIL, 2007.05.04

After a group of Mohawks from the Tyendinaga reserve blockaded the railway between Kingston and Toronto two weeks ago, a near unanimous cry rose up from the editorial pages of Ontario newspapers and talk radio: Get Shawn Brant. Yesterday, Mr. Brant, a beanpole of a man, walked into a packed Napanee courtroom with his wrists and ankles shackled after handing himself over to the Ontario Provincial Police.

According to court testimony, the arrest warrant on charges of mischief, disobeying a court order and breach of recognizance violated an agreement between police and demonstrators, who were given immunity when they peacefully ended the blockade. But Mr. Brant worried that the warrant for him would be used as a pretext for raiding a gravel quarry that he and several other community members from Tyendinaga have been occupying for the past six weeks. "We don't want to bring that into the camp," he told me.

The court granted Mr. Brant bail on condition that he is not allowed to "plan, incite, initiate, encourage or participate in any unlawful protest," including those "that interfere in any way with commercial or non-commercial traffic on all public and private roads, airports, railways or waterways." A trial date has not been set.

Why the determination to get Shawn Brant, and Shawn Brant alone? On the surface, the broken immunity agreement seems sure to inflame tensions. And whatever crimes Mr. Brant may have committed, he had plenty of company. But Mr. Brant has a theory. "Right now, I'm the voice. They think if they take away the people's voice, the people will stop. They'll see that they're wrong, and that's not all bad." Mr. Brant is more than a voice. He has become a symbol for the new militancy that is spreading through first nations communities across the country. Sitting beside the campfire at the occupied quarry a few days ago, Mr. Brant told me that since he was a kid, people in his community have been telling him to keep quiet. "It used to be, 'Shawn, shut up, don't say those things about the government, they'll cut off our funding.' Now it's 'Shawn, shut up, they'll walk away from the negotiating table.' " The reason Mr. Brant isn't willing to let the negotiations take their course is that these talks are designed to take decades. And as the time passes, the land disappears. Forests are clear-cut, mountains are carved up, suburbs creep outward. Ineffective negotiations do not hold the line on an already unacceptable status quo - they contribute to the losing of very real ground.

At the gravel quarry near Deseronto, the loss of land is painfully, insultingly literal. The quarry is on land never ceded by the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, a fact the federal government has acknowledged.

The only question is what form compensation for the theft will take.

The Tyendinaga band council and Ottawa have been negotiating over that question since last November. The problem arose because, as the two parties talked, trucks were carrying 10,000 loads of newly crushed gravel out of the pit every year - an estimated 100,000 tonnes. While they bargained for the land, the land itself was disappearing.

When 150 people from the reservation took over the quarry and planted the Mohawk flag at the top of a mount of gravel, they had, and continue to have a single demand: Revoke the quarry's licence until the negotiations have concluded. Or, as 28-year-old Jason Maracle put it to me, rather succinctly: "You're not hauling away the very land we're talking about." But it got worse. There was a pile of wood on the edge of the gravel pit that the people occupying the quarry used to feed their bonfire. As the pile depleted, it became apparent the wood had been covering up a large pile of garbage: old washing machines, leaking industrial batteries, oil filters, hydraulic fluid, bed frames, antifreeze. They explored some more and discovered it was all over the pit: piles of hastily covered junk, some of it half-burned, much of it toxic, including broken up pieces of asphalt from the highway. (You can still see the yellow lines.) "When it rains, the whole mountain turns into a rainbow of chemical fluids and oils, all flowing down into the water. Then it all leeches into the ground water," Mr. Maracle told me, pointing to the murky green pool at the bottom of the pit.

Not surprisingly, the mine has become a powerful metaphor, a vivid illustration of the failures of the negotiation process, and the problems with being patient. While the experts talk, good land is trucked out and toxic junk is trucked in - and without direct action, there would have been nothing left to talk about.

It's an image with resonance on reservations across the country.

With commodities from fuels to metals commanding record prices on the world market, the slow erosion of land has suddenly jumped into fast-forward, with a frantic push to open new mines and pipelines.

Add to that the race to cut new ski hills and highways out of pristine mountains for the B.C. Olympics in 2010 and to build new town homes to feed Ontario's housing boom and it's easy to see why more and more native people are telling Shawn Brant to keep talking.

The final insult came when the federal Tories handed down a budget with next to nothing new in it to address first nations poverty.

Mr. Brant makes an analogy between the way land disappears while negotiations stall and the way lives are degraded while funding is frozen. Birth rates are high, he points out, "so getting nothing means moving backward - more suicides, more disease, more contamination." When "nothing" happens at the negotiation table, mountains and trees disappear; when "nothing" is in the budget, lives are extinguished.

The budget blow prompted Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine to call for a national day of action on June 29. Though Mr. Fontaine insists he is not calling for cross-country blockades, many first nations are already planning them, with talk of a co-ordinated targeting of key infrastructure, from rails to roads. "It's the same notion as a general strike," Mr. Brant explains with a smile.

If the blockade strategy goes ahead, one thing is certain: There will be rivers of ink spilled explaining that, while native grievances are legitimate, there is no excuse for such disruptive tactics.

Protesters will be told they are discrediting their cause, and they will be described as "violent" whether or not violence takes place.

Mr. Fontaine has taken this finger-wagging to heart. "Let's face it, if you irritate Canadians, they're not going to listen to your message," his spokesperson said recently.

Mr. Brant has a different message for non-native Canada - don't just listen to us, join us. He points out that Canadians, even those who tell themselves they support native rights, "still treat them as a government problem." But that's not how social issues ever gain the kind of critical mass that leads to real change. "The environment is an issue right now because people told the government it was an issue," Mr. Brant says. "If they said our concerns were an issue, they would be addressed too." Right now, everything is lining up for June 29 to be a day for natives to act and the rest of us to whine about late trains and traffic jams. But listening to Mr. Brant, it struck me that it could be something else: a day of action on native rights for the entire country, one when we all refuse to shut up.

Naomi Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, to be published in September.

O.P.P Set Sights on Mohawk Spokesman

From a Press Release (Wednesday,May 2,2007)

Tyendinaga Mohawk Shawn Brant is set to appear in a Napanee Bail Court on Thursday, May 3rd at 2:00 PM on charges stemming from the closure of the CN Main Line 2 weeks ago.

The OPP issued a warrant for his arrest almost immediately following the April 21st CN closure.

Brant, along with his lawyer Peter Rosenthal, will attend the Napanee OPP station at 10:00AM on Thursday to formally accept the charges filed by the OPP.

According to spokesman Jason Maracle, “Targeting one of our speakers is an old tactic. If one person goes down another takes their place. If someone goes down on the battlefield, no one should expect the battle to stop.”

Tyendinaga Contacts:
Jason Maracle: (613) 961-9920
Tara Green: (613) 827-0790

Previous Announcement (April 23/07)


Gather at:

LOCATION: Ministry of Natural Resources
Whitney Block (at the corner of Queen’s Park Circle and Wellesley, in front of two large canons)

DATE: Monday, April 23

TIME: 11 am

Join us as we tell the Ontario government to uphold its duties to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (MBQ) and to the environment. Join us as we deliver direct evidence of illegal dumping and a message sent by the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte to the steps of the Ministry of Natural Resources. It is time the MNR and the Province of Ontario stepped up and took responsibility for their part in the destruction and theft of indigenous land.

One month ago, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte reclaimed a portion of the Culbertson Tract – 925 acres of land taken from their community, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, in 1832.

The land reclaimed by the Mohawk community pointedly includes a gravel quarry. Beyond the obvious direct thieving of stolen land which quarry operations so blatantly embody – more than 100,000 tonnes of land are trucked out every year, to benefit settler Canadian business interests - it has since been discovered that the crimes against the Mohawk Territory are greater than first imagined.

Thurlow Aggregates, the quarry operators, were also carrying out illegal dumping of waste on this site. Building materials, batteries and highway asphalt have been uncovered. The operators went so far as to try and bury the evidence of this scandalous activity, when they became aware of the Mohawk’s intended reclamation of the land.

While this information was made public several weeks ago, the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) – responsible both for the licensing and environmental standards of quarry operations in this province - has refused to inspect it.

Since day one of the quarry takeover, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte have demanded that the quarry license be revoked. Not only has the MNR refused to comply, but the MNR District Manager came to the Territory, only to refuse to see the evidence of the dumping and environmental destruction at the quarry.

The MNR refuses to act despite Federal government recognition of the validity of the Mohawk’s claim to the land. The Province of Ontario has failed in every way – no proper monitoring of the quarry, no revocation of the license to ensure its rightful owners can clean up the mess that has been made and put the land to healthy use, complete risk of the local environment and local water supply. Before the quarry was reclaimed, the MNR sat back and collected fees from the operation of removing stolen land from the Culbertson Tract.

Join us on Monday, as we demand the Province of Ontario own up to its inaction and answer for its role in the devastation and pilfering of indigenous land.

This demonstration is organized by a coalition including No One Is Illegal-Toronto, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, and members of the Coalition In Support of Indigenous Sovereignty.

Update (April 5): Mohawks block off disputed quarry

Native protester feels stood up

By Luke Hendry The Belleville Intelligencer
Local News - Thursday, April 05, 2007 Updated @ 2:14:22 PM

DESERONTO — One of the lead protesters at a native encampment here has delivered a warning to the provincial government that its ministerial representatives should keep their appointments.

Shawn Brant told reporters Thursday afternoon a district manager of the Ministry of Natural Resources was expected to visit a quarry here at noon Thursday, on the invitation of protesters, but did not attend.

Brant said the official instead went to the band office for Mohawks Of the Bay of Quinte and told officials there she had concerns about visiting the site.

An official with the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Thursday confirmed the band council had convened “a meeting between the ministry and officials from the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte,” but declined to confirm whether the manager in question was among the ministry delegation.

Brant said district manager Jane Ireland had been invited to tour several sites on the disputed land where the Mohawks allege garbage and industrial waste had been dumped and burned illegally. Brant said the protesters camped at the quarry in what is known as the Culbertson Land Tract had assured Ireland there would be no safety issues during her visit.

Brant said the evidence of contamination — sites, he said, where asphalt was dumped and some waste had been burned — was obvious and required no testing by the ministry to ascertain that it was hazardous.

But, because the manager did not honour the invitation of the protesters, Brant declared no other government official will be allowed to enter the area, henceforth.

“We wanted them to see this,” Brant said. “It was today or it was nothing. I think it (the alleged contamination) is clear enough and they should just revoke the licence and f*** off.”

Previous Updates:

Group wants gravel pit’s operations stopped, land claim settled

- Friday, March 23, 2007 @ 00:00

By Jeremy Ashley

DESERONTO/Osprey News Network

Clad in camouflaged apparel and hauling camping gear, more than 125 members of the mohawks of the Bay of Quinte community seized control of a gravel quarry on a disputed tract of land located along the northeastern outskirts of Deseronto last night.

Shortly before 5 p.m., the winding access road leading to the Thurlow Aggregates gravel pit off of Deseronto Road was blocked off by mohawk protesters in several vehicles, including two school buses and an number of all-terrain vehicles.

Protesters and members of the mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (MBQ) band council say the move is to reinforce an earlier request to have the quarry’s operation stopped.

Flanked by members of his council, MBQ Chief R. Donald Maracle said the event was to “basically send a message to Canada that it is unacceptable to continue to develop land that is unsettled.”

The demonstrators say they are reclaiming a small part of 925 acres known as the Culbertson Land Tract, a parcel of land that they claim was illegally taken from the MBQ in 1832.

Maracle said the occupation wasn’t formally supported by the MBQ band council.

“The intervention that is occurring today is not officially sanctioned by the mohawk council, but the mohawk council certainly understands the frustration that young people have in achieving a resolution that’s in the best interest of future generations.

“I’m here basically to point out that the government is not dealing fairly with our people and helping us settle these claims amicably.”

Shawn Brant, a well-known mohawk activist, said the occupation of the quarry is expected to go on for quite some time.

“Let me put it to you this way – once we’re dug in, it will take an air strike to get us out,” the 42-year-old said.

“The quarry is something that strikes at the heart of the issue – it’s very difficult to have negotiations at a time when they’re taking out 10,000 truckloads of our land [per year]. It’s an affront to our process.”

Establishing camps inside the quarry earlier in the evening, as many as 150 people acted as a “set-up crew,” Brant said.

Native communities throughout the province have “been put on notice” about the group’s actions, and “all are waiting and it is our intention to draw up support as it’s needed.”

Brant said it was his group’s intention “to close the quarry” but admitted the group “was a little reluctant about a long-term campaign … what we want to do is suspend his [quarry] licence until the land claim is resolved.”

After a federal negotiator was appointed earlier this year, protesters turned their attention to the quarry, claiming the operation would be contributing material to the development of a new $30-million housing development in Deseronto and pledged to shut down the site.

Quarry Use on Disputed Culbertson Tract:
Mohawk Community Demands End to Stealing of Land

Text from Information Leaflet distributed in Tyendinaga, Mohawk Territory
March 2007

The Culbertson is a tract of land, 923 acres in size that runs along the eastern boundary of Tyendinaga. It was stolen by the Feds in 1837. Tyendinaga's Chiefs immediately registered their people's dissent but no formal legal process existed to pursue its return. After the Government finally got around to creating such a process in 1991, Tyendinaga filed a formal land claim.

In November 2003, the Feds acknowledged that the Culberston Tract was never surrendered and is Mohawk Land. They then tried for several years to get Tyendinaga to take a buy-out for the land. The people of Tyendinaga repeatedly refused.

The town of Deseronto falls in the middle of the Culberston claim. The Mayor of Deseronto said that the town's economic viability and survival depends on the development of Culbertson tract lands and began promoting the land for condos and townhouses late last year. Tyendinaga's Rotiskenhrakehte successfully stopped development of these lands and the developer publicly abandoned plans for a 30 million dollar project.

However, Thurlow Aggregates continues to operate a Gravel Quarry on Culberston Tract lands. Despite the fact that Tyendinaga has requested its licence be revoked given ongoing negotiations, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources continues to license the quarry for the removal of 150,000 tons of gravel annually. Federal negotiations are clearly in bad faith as they choose to ignore the 850 plus truckloads of Tyendinaga land that are removed every month. In January 2007, Tyendinaga's Rotiskenhrakehte gave the quarry operator 60 days notice to stop selling off Mohawk land. The time for voluntary closure has lapsed and Tyendinaga has now assumed the burden of closing the gravel pit.

- Text from Information Leaflet distributed in Tyendinaga, Mohawk Territory
March 2007

Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte stop a convoy of military personnel on their territory, November 15, 2007


Tyendinaga Update: The Fight for Return of Culberston Tract Lands
January 2007

The Culberston Land Tract

The Culberston is a tract of land, 923 acres in size that runs along the eastern boundary of Tyendinaga today. In 1837 the Federal Government changed the status of the land from Indian land to white land.

All agreements with the Mohawk Nation predate the existence of Canada. While the Mohawk Chiefs immediately registered their people’s dissent in 1837 when the land was stolen, no formal legal process existed to pursue its return. Despite a fundamental obligation to uphold previous agreements between the Mohawks and the crown, the Federal Government only created such a process in 1991.

Tyendinaga filed a formal claim for the land with the Feds in 1995. The claim seeks the restoration of lands to the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

In November 2003, Tyendinaga received a letter from the Federal Government acknowledging what the people of Tyendinaga have always known: That the Culberston Tract was never surrendered and is Mohawk Land.

Since then the Federal Government has been trying to get Tyendinaga to take a buy-out for the land. Mohawk people know the value of land cannot have a dollar sign attached and that the future generations of our growing population will depend on this land. Tyendinaga will accept nothing less than the full and unfettered return of these lands to Mohawk control and use.


The Mayor of Deseronto has said that the town’s economic viability and survival depends on the development of Culbertson tract lands. Tyendinaga’s Rotiskenhrakehte have twice ensured that deadlines to begin development of these lands have not been realized. “If they cannot find a way to survive without our land then they simply cannot continue to exist,” said Tyendinaga Mohawk, Shawn Brant.

The Rotiskenhrakehte have also been mandated to close a Deseronto quarry, situated on Culberston Tract lands, that literally digs up, sells off and ships out Mohawk land by the truckload. This obscene state of affairs can no longer be tolerated.

Land Claim Arrests

The Government struck back last Friday in a failed attempt to slow the momentum in the reclamation of 923 acres of Mohawk Nation Lands in Tyendinaga.

Friday’s attempt to target and remove Tyendinaga leadership with a clear embellishment of events surrounding the charges of Shawn Brant and Mario Baptiste has done nothing more than inflame the situation and anger the community.

Shawn and Mario would likely still be in jail if Tyendinaga community members had not responded immediately with imminent plans to shut down Deseronto completely.

The motive for the charges was made clear when the Crown pushed (unsuccessfully) for conditions barring the accused from Deseronto and the Culberston Land Claim Tract entirely.

“We have been denied our land for 170 years. That’s not going to fly anymore. There is no level of Government or police force that will keep a Mohawk off their own land,” said Tyendinaga, Mohawk Nation citizen, Jay Maracle.


Mohawk protesters charged

Jeremy Ashley
Local News - Friday, January 12, 2007

Two native protesters who were at the centre of the most recent dispute near Deseronto Wednesday have been arrested on criminal charges in connection to a Nov. 15 demonstration.

On that date, they had been protesting a disputed land claim in Deseronto, 15 km east of Belleville, which continues to be at the centre of a dispute and led to a demonstration at a gravel quarry this week.

Warrants were issued for the pair following an investigation into a confrontation between members of the Canadian army who were stopped en route to a training exercise on Nov. 15 at the site of a native protest on Highway 2.

Friday, an officer with the Napanee detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police pulled over a vehicle on Deseronto Road, just north of County Road 2, for a traffic violation, explained OPP Sgt. Kristine Rae.

During the course of the traffic stop, the individual in the vehicle made a cell phone call, Rae said, and the two accused showed up at the scene moments later.

“The officer was aware of the two warrants for the individuals and (after he identified the men) their arrests were made without incident,” Rae said,

“Officers want to ensure that everyone is aware that the OPP respects lawful protests, but will not tolerate criminal activity.”

Charged with three counts of uttering death threats are Shawn Michael Brant, 42, of Tyendinaga.

Charged with two counts of assault and one count of mischief is Mario Michael Baptiste Jr., 21, also of Tyendinaga.

Both are scheduled to appear for a bail hearing Friday in Napanee.