By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — First Nations leaders in southern Manitoba are warning there will be more blockades if Indigenous concerns over land rights and poverty are not addressed.
The Southern Chiefs Organization says it is planning to set up barriers March 20 at four international border and provincial boundary crossings. The blockades are to last for two hours and will be aimed at weekend travellers going to or coming from North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
“We’re not here to shut the economy down,” Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said Friday.
“We are asking regular Canadians to join us to acknowledge what we are facing, and that is a complete blockade on our economy.”
Daniels said the blockades were planned before countrywide protests erupted over the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in British Columbia, but he added they are related.
“That is Canada’s rule of law — that Indigenous people are relegated to poverty and relegated to the margins of society,” he said.
“And until Canadians … understand that, we’re to continue to see problems like we’re seeing today with the Wet’suwet’en.”
Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation are opposed to the GasLink pipeline that would run through traditional territory, although the line has received approval from elected band councils.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has said he may seek injunctions against any future blockades in the province. There have already been a few short-lived ones, including a 24-hour stoppage of rail traffic west of Winnipeg. That one was dismantled by protesters after Canadian National Railway obtained its own injunction.
Pallister said no one wants to escalate tensions and risk violence, but blockades must not be allowed to continue unimpeded.
“There just seems to be a growing awareness and frustration among — not just premiers but a lot of Canadians — that this can’t be allowed to go on. It just can’t. There has to be a way to work toward a resolution,” Pallister said Friday, one day after he and other premiers had a conference call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“There’s a general consensus … that we don’t want to exacerbate the situation and create violence, but we need to … make the public aware and confident that we’re not ignoring the well-being of the whole population at the expense of avoiding such.
“(It’s a) balancing act.”
As for future blockades in Manitoba, Pallister did not commit to a specific reaction.
“We’ll literally cross that bridge when we come to it.”
The Manitoba Metis Federation said the protests are hurting people and run contrary to the wishes of elected leaders in the Wet’suwet’en territory.
“Now is the time to ask ourselves: when will this stop?” federation president David Chartrand said in a written statement. “Will it be if a life is lost or illness worsened because of these protests and barricades?
“This will be on protesters’ shoulders to bear.”