MASSENA The Massena-Cornwall International Bridge was closed to traffic for nearly five hours Saturday as hundreds of Mohawk Indians marched to Cornwall, Ontario, and back to protest a Canadian bill they say violates their sovereignty.
Many carried protest signs or tribal flags. Some dressed in ceremonial attire, and those near the front of the crowd sang traditional songs and played drums to accompany the march, which began at about 10:30 a.m.
Were bringing awareness to people, so that everyone knows what is going on, said St. Regis Mohawk tribe member Shaylin L. Jacco.
When they reached Cornwall, the protesters joined hands in a large circle to perform a tribal dance before returning to the American side without incident. The bridge reopened at about 3 p.m.
The St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. closed the bridge to traffic to allow the planned march to proceed safely.
The demonstration was part of the Idle No More movement, which was organized in response to Bill C-45, a Canadian federal budget bill that reduces some environmental protections and would allow private developers to buy tribal land. Many tribal leaders say the bill violates their treaty rights.
According to tribe member Curtis H. White, the bill is just the latest in a long-running history of legislation meant to reduce the rights of Indian tribes, in Canada and in the United States. The Idle No More protests are a way of speaking out against these decisions.
We get frustrated, Mr. White said. We wish there would be immediate change, but its ongoing. We need to keep reminding them.
The bill prompted the creation of Idle No More in October. The movement has been increasingly gaining the support of Indian nations ever since, in Canada and the United States. The movements goals stretch far beyond the scope of Bill C-45. It calls for complete sovereignty of Indian nations, in theory and practice.
Were not going to be idle, ever. Not no more, said protester Roger Lazore.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper has agreed to hold a meeting with the leaders of Indian tribes to address their concerns Friday.
Saturday was the first time the Massena-Cornwall International Bridge has been closed since May 2009, when the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe shut down the bridge for six weeks in protest of a resolution allowing Canadian customs officers on Cornwall Island to carry guns. Cornwall Island is part of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.
Unlike the 2009 event, Saturdays protest was planned and ended on schedule after only a few hours. But some Mohawks said even that short display is enough to show they will not be silent on issues that affect native tribes.
Aroniateni, a Mohawk tribe member who joined the march in support of the Idle No More movement, said the protest sent the message the tribes will not be ignored.
We still exist, and we still have power, he said.