On Monday, April 14th, a trial involving highly political charges laid against Shawn Brant and two other Mohawks from Tyendinaga, ended in acquittals for two of the three charged. The charges stemmed from a demonstration that was part of the struggle for the Culbertson Tract.
Shawn Brant was found not guilty on Monday on three charges of uttering threats at soldiers during a 2006 demonstration against a proposed development on Mohawk land. Justice Charles Anderson, in Napanee, Ont., also cleared his co-accused Jerome Barnhart on two charges of uttering threats and one charge of mischief. Mario 'Skin' Baptiste Jr., was convicted of two counts of assault soldiers and one count of mischief for attacking a vehicle. Sentencing of Skin will occur after the completion of a pre-sentencing report, which could take eight weeks to prepare.
These particular charges stemmed from an earlier demonstration around the Culbertson Tract, land which the federal government has long acknowledged rightfully belongs to the Mohawks but which is languishing at the negotiation table. On November 15th, 2006, Mohawks from Tyendinaga erected posters at the site of a proposed 140-home development project which was later scuttled due to Mohawk resistance to building on their land. During the protest, five Canadian Military vehicles were spotted traveling in a convoy through the reserve. In the context of the history of military involvement in policing Native protest across Canada, the convoy was seen as a veiled threat. The Mohawks blocked the vehicles' path with cars and trucks, eventually allowing the O.P.P. to escort the military away. No one was charged until two months later - just days after Shawn Brant announced that Tyendinaga Mohawks planned to take blockade actions as part of the upcoming June 29th Aboriginal Day of Action, the three Mohawks were charged.
The defence attorney argued during this trial that the laying of these charges was politically motivated, in order to ensure that Shawn Brant would have outstanding legal issues before the Day of Action, and would likely be held without bail if he participated in any future blockades. After this week's acquittal, Shawn Brant told reporters, "I know it weighed heavy on the judges when I was denied bail on two different occasions." He went on to say, "I spent two months in jail because of this; I've been on conditions for 18 months. To have them set aside like this is a hollow victory at best." In addition, Shawn Brant is the sole Mohawk facing charges in connection with Tyendinaga Mohawks' highway and rail line blockades in April and June 2007. The latter blockades happened in conjunction with the Assembly of First Nations' National Day of Action.
The political nature of this trial, and the on-going criminalization of Tyendinaga Mohawks around their struggle for the land, continues to be made clear through the heavy police presence each time the Mohawks appear in court. On Monday, OPP officers in tactical uniforms were stationed at the courthouse, and anyone entering was scanned with a metal detector. People attending the verdict were not allowed to bring cellphones inside, after being told that explosive devices could be smuggled in this way.
Similar to previous occasions when Shawn Brant and other members of his community have gone to court in 2007 and 2008, this excessive security presence is repeatedly implemented in an effort to influence the outcome of the court proceedings, and is another form of intimidation and threat against people who are fighting for their land.
A CBC documentary aired last month (see below for link), revealed that OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino had heavily armed tactical units on hand, to use lethal force against the Mohawks if necessary, in order to re-open Highway 401, which was shut down during the actions of June 29th. The OPP ignored the recommendations of the Ipperwash Inquiry Report, which resulted from Dudley George's death, and disregarded
their common practice of obtaining injunctions before considering using force against indigenous occupations.
The lengths to which the colonial state, cops, and courts are prepared to go, in their efforts to repress and destroy indigenous resistance and struggle for sovereignty, self-determination, and justice, is laid bare by these facts. Shawn Brant goes to trial in January 2009, facing a possible 12 years in a federal penitentiary.
The personal sacrifice and the tremendous price he stands to pay for his leadership and courage warrant our utmost efforts to ensure Shawn Brant does not go to trial isolated and unawares of the depth of respect and support that exists across Turtle Island, and how deeply tied the struggle for social justice must be with First Nations
peoples. It is vital that people of conscience act to support the Mohawks of Tyendinaga.
The Tyendinaga Support Committee
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1. Listen to the recent CBC radio documentary: The Long Hot Summer
The Current CBC Radio 99.1FM
Link to hear the documentary at http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/2008/200803/20080326.html
In June 2007, thousands of native Canadians turned out for the national Aboriginal Day of Action, a day of peaceful protest designed to educate non-native Canadians about the issues that plague native communities. Despite concerns of violence, the day came and went more or less peacefully. Those in power -- native and non-native -- congratulated each other on how well it all went and concluded that the predicted "long, hot summer" of aboriginal discontent had been skillfully, peacefully and -- in the most Canadian of ways -- quietly averted. But that very nearly wasn't the case. And the day came closer than most people realize to ending with a violent confrontation.Freelance broadcaster Susanna Kelley investigated what happened that
2. Donate money to the Tyendinega Legal Defence Fund, which divides funds raised between Shawn's legal costs and maintaining the quarry reclamation site. Cheques can be made out to "Tyendinaga Legal Defence Fund" and mailed to the address below.
3. Host a facilitated workshop or information session with a member of the Tyendinaga Support Committee. Contact us at email@example.com
4. Put forward a resolution in your local or organization in support of Shawn Brant and the struggle of the Tyendinaga Mohawk community to reclaim their land.
5. Officially endorse the TSC campaign to support Shawn Brant's legal defence and the quarry reclamation site by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org
6. In Toronto, contact us to become actively involved in the work of the TSC and come to one of our meetings.
7. Visit our website to sign an online petition or to join our mailing list: http://www.ocap.ca/supporttmt.html
Tyendinaga Support Committee
c/o 10 Britain St. Toronto ON M5A 1R6