27 December 2012

by Allan Slater, Christian Peacemaker Teams Reserve Corps member

The following reflection has been edited for length. The original is available here.

On Christmas day, 2012, I visited the CN Rail blockade on Aamjiwnaang First Nation just south of Sarnia, Ontario.

The territory is surrounded by petrochemical processors, a maze of buildings, pipes and smokestacks belching clouds into the air. High chain-link fences enclose all of it, including several ponds of liquids contained by clay levees. Even on a Christmas day, tanker trucks moved products around the area. Many vacant and rusting installations suggest the manufacturing hub is falling on hard times. As a light snow fell, I wondered, given the active smokestacks, just what was falling with it.

Aamjiwnaang is a pleasant reprieve from the surreal blight of the petrochemical installations. Much of the land is covered in forest. People live in neat, well-kept homes.


The CN Rail blockade is in a secluded, forested area on a paved road within the territory. When I arrived, about twenty-five people were eating, talking, and enjoying each other's company. With shelters and fires to ward off the cold and damp, this blockade could easily withstand considerable nasty weather.

I had a chat with three Aamjiwnaang residents – Mark, Ken and Liz – there to support the blockade, but not organizers of it. Liz said that community people brought the idea of a blockade to the band council both to support Chief Spence and to pressure the Canadian Government to repeal sections of the C-45 omnibus bill. One of the bill's sections, much publicized, ends environmental protection for lakes and rivers. Another allows the minister in charge of aboriginal affairs to override reserves residents' decisions and cede their lands to the private sector. The band council affirmed the blockade. The site was selected because CN Rail has proper leases to pass through most of the territory, but not to cross that roadway.


This teepee, in the Band
Council Square, houses a
sacred fire that will burn
until Chief Theresa Spence
can end her hunger strike.


Mark noted that the treaties, which pre-date Canada, are really with the crown (UK); the Canadian Government is a third-party participant. He says the blockade is supported by nearby First Nations communities and the Union of Ontario Indians.

Aamjiwnaang First Nation contracts its police services from the City of Sarnia. Both Mayor Bradley and the Chief of Police have visited the blockade. CN Rail sent a representative from Edmonton its leaders. CN has some sort of injunction, but the Chief of Police suggested it will not be enforced so long as there are no public safety issues. The local Conservative MP, Patricia Davidson, has refused to meet with them.


Sonny by Christmas tree at
blockade site

People from Aamjiwnaang and other places come and go, but at least one community member is always present at the blockade. Ken ("Sonny"), who helped set it up, is one of them.

Sakura, from Toronto, was part of the Occupy movement there. She supports the blockade out of opposition to the environmental destruction and oppression unleashed by unregulated Canadian mining companies in Canada and around the world.

Laura, also from Toronto, compared the Occupy and Idle No More movements to two streams uniting to form a mighty river. Occupy raised public awareness. Idle No More employs action and tactics to bring political change.