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Mohawk Chief: Massena Supervisor’s blog is offensive

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MASSENA - Supervisor Joseph D. Gray admits he was “frustrated” when he wrote a blog that called a Mohawk protest that closed the Massena-Cornwall International Bridge for several hours Saturday “pointless.”

Mr. Gray was responding to a protest that closed the bridge for five hours, as hundreds of protesters marched from Massena to Cornwall and back. The blog, titled, “Pointless Bridge-Closing Protests Must Stop,” claimed these marches are not effective in spreading awareness of the protestors’ demands, and called for methods of protest that do not negatively impact travelers and local business. He also alluded to the notion that people of a different ethnic group might not have been permitted to stage this protest.

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Supervisor Gray posted the following blog on Tuesday:

“Once again, law-abiding travellers between Massena and Cornwall, Ontario, have been harassed and inconvenienced by another pointless protest closing traffic on the the Seaway International Bridge.

“The time has come for U.S., Canadian and Mohawk authorities to stop this foolishness.

“What exactly have any of these protests accomplished other than ticking off drivers?

“If the organizers of these protests think they are gaining any kind of public support for whatever statements they are trying to make, they are sadly mistaken.

“Why must we tolerate them? Why do authorities tolerate them? If I get a hundred people together to close the bridge in protest of bridge-closing protests will I be arrested and taken off to jail?

“Look, I know that authorities are hesitant to stop the Mohawk-sponsored protests for fear of being called racists but the time has come for residents of all three communities to come together and say we’ve had enough of the disruptions to our business, our pleasure, our daily lives.

“Most people can’t tell you what any of these protests are about. In fact, some of the protesters probably don’t really know why they are closing a bridge and what they hope to achieve.

“I don’t make these comments out of hatred or because of any bias.

“I am simply appealing to reasonable adults in our communities to do the right thing and say we will not tolerate these disruptions in the future. There are plenty of other means of expressing your viewpoint.

“Let’s put our energies toward something positive and make a real difference in our region.”

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The post quickly drew harsh criticism, primarily from members of the Mohawk community. Some blasted the blog as ignorant, racist, and some even urged residents of Akwesasne to boycott Massena businesses and instead drive to Malone for their shopping needs.

“He sure did offend a lot of people. He should have done his homework before he opened his mouth,” St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council Chief Ron LaFrance said. “If he’d looked into (Bill C-45), if he knew why we were protesting, he would have understood why we did what we did.”

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.

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Chief Lafrance posted the following comment on Mr. Gray’s blog Tuesday evening.

“Its to bad you know so little about your neighbors and the struggles we face to survive as Mohawk people. The foolishness you refer to is what we refer to as STANDING up for our rights, something that has been taken away from you without you even realizing it. These foolish people you are referring keep your little ezxcuse for a town afloat. If it wasn’t for the people and businesses of Akwesasne, Massena would have dried up a long time ago. I don’t know why we keep your economy from drying up when we hear and read crap like this. Malone is not that far away, think about it blow hole!”

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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, both in Canada and in the United States. The Idle No More protests are a way of speaking out against these decisions.

Mr. LaFrance noted the march was a grass-roots effort, and the tribal council was not involved in organizing or staging the march. But he stands by those who did.

“I won’t defend what my people did, (though) I do support what my people did,” Mr. LaFrance said. “We were standing up for our aboriginal rights.”

Within two days the blog received more than 150 comments, many of which strayed from the blog itself and descended into verbal attacks and accusations of racism. Most of the commenters criticized Mr. Gray, but some supported him.

In an attempt to quell the online arguments, Mr. Gray wrote a second blog Thursday morning, apologizing for the previous one.

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“There’s an old saying that a man in a hole has got to know when to stop digging,” Mr. Gray wrote on his blog Thursday. “So, I’ll apologize to all of my Mohawk neighbors and others who were offended by my post about the bridge closing.

“As you can see, my post upset a lot of people. That was not my intent. Nor was it my intent to to dismiss or criticize the Idle No More movement or the opposition to Mr. Harper’s legislation. The opposition is legitimate and everyone has a right to oppose it.

I simply hoped that in the future we could find a better way to state a protest than to shut down the bridge. In retrospect, I could have chosen a few words differently in my post.

“I hope I can repair any damage I may have caused. I worked for the Mohawk Tribe for over five years and really enjoyed my time there. I grew up in Helena and attended weekly mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Hogansburg. I have many Mohawk friends and I hope this controversy has not caused my to lose any of them.

“Niawen (I hope I spelled that right!)”

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“Protests are an acceptable, meaningful way to get a point across, but I would hope we can find another way for protests to be as visible without closing the bridge,” Mr. Gray said Thursday afternoon. “I think that message was lost in my original blog, and there were some words (in it) I shouldn’t have used.”

Mr. Gray noted that protests had shut the bridge down before and said this protest reminded him of the protests against armed Canadian customs being stationed on Cornwall Island in 2009, which shut the bridge down for more than two months. These bridge shutdowns hurt businesses in Massena, Cornwall and Akwesasne, Mr. Gray said.

Despite the large numbers of critics the blog received, both inside and outside the St. Regis Mohawk community, many commenters supported Mr. Gray and the content of the blog.

Mayor James F. Hidy is one of Mr. Gray’s allies in the matter, saying he often receives calls from residents who are unhappy with the bridge closing due to a Mohawk protest.

“I think shutting down the bridge is wrong. No one else should have to be inconvenienced (because of) another person’s protests,” Mr. Hidy said. “There has to be some other means (through which) they can get their point across, by using good nature, good dialogue and good judgement.”

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Mr. Gray’s blog is located at http://massenasupervisor.blogspot.com .

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