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Last Updated: Friday, 29 June 2007, 22:18 GMT 23:18 UK
Canada natives in day of protests

Protesters march past parliament in Ottawa
Protesters want to raise awareness of poverty and marginalisation
Aboriginal groups across Canada are holding a day of marches and protests to highlight poverty and social issues facing their communities.

More than 1,000 people marched in the capital, Ottawa, and 50 events were planned nationwide, an official said.

Organisers had called for a peaceful demonstrations, but a major highway was closed for several hours after protesters blocked a nearby road.

A rail line was also blocked, and train service suspended on two key routes.

In Ottawa, Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, an umbrella group representing Canada's indigenous groups, led marchers who chanted and beat drums. Some protesters set up tents on Parliament Hill.

"We want our people to be treated with dignity and respect," Mr Fontaine said.

"We are looking for the basic necessities of life that come with being Canadian."


The BBC's Ian Gunn, in Vancouver, says that the First Nations leaders have had a difficult line to walk.

They wanted to stir their communities into action in order to raise the profile of issues such as suicide, alcoholism, poverty and poor living conditions on First Nations reserves.

A Mohawk flag flies in Deseronto, Ontario, Canada - 28/06/2007
We want the government to know, and the rest of this country, that we're prepared to make commitments and sacrifices to ensure a safe, healthy environment in which our children can live
Shawn Brant
Mohawk Nation

But they are well aware of the anger and frustration in many of their communities, our correspondent adds.

Some demonstrators disrupted parts of Canada's transport network.

Police closed a section of Highway 401 - Canada's busiest road - early on Friday after a small group of native Mohawk protesters blockaded a nearby secondary highway and a stretch of railway track on Thursday night.

Ontario provincial police said they had taken the measure "for safety reasons", and the road was later reopened.

Canada's national passenger rail service, Via Rail, suspended all services between Toronto and Montreal and the national capital, Ottawa, because of the blockade.

The company said 5,000 travellers had been affected but it expected normal service to resume on Saturday.

Shawn Brant, a member of the Mohawk Nation leading transport blockades in eastern Ontario, promised to use force if the police acted aggressively against his group, saying it was "no secret" there were guns in the camp.

"We want the government to know, and the rest of this country, that we're prepared to make commitments and sacrifices to ensure a safe, healthy environment in which our children can live," he told the Canadian Press news agency.

Ontario police issued a warrant for Mr Brant on a charge of mischief, but Julian Fantino, a provincial police commissioner, said he wanted to avoid conflict.

"We're certainly in a position where we want to demonstrate goodwill," the Ottawa Citizen newspaper quoted him saying.

Unresolved land claims

There have been violent confrontations with police in the past.

Native blockade on Old Highway 2 near Deseronto, Ontario, Canada - 28/06/2007
Canada's native people face much higher than average poverty

In 1995 a native protester was killed in Ontario and in 1990 a Quebec police officer was killed in a stand-off with police outside Montreal.

There are about 1.3 million people in Canada with aboriginal ancestry out of a total population of 33 million, according to a 2001 census.

Many live on impoverished reserves where unemployment, suicide and drug and alcohol abuse levels are much higher than the national average.

An additional source of frustration are the 800 unresolved land claims by First Nations across the country.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he will introduce legislation later this year aimed at cutting the average time taken to resolve claims from 13 years to three years.

Scenes of protest from across Canada

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Country profile: Canada
01 Nov 05 |  Country profiles

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