Native protesters staged a round dance outside Brantford city hall on Monday night to demand a halt to development and better treatment from the city.
Locked doors and security guards kept several dozen protesters – the majority from the Mohawk Workers – from entering the building during a council meeting.
Mohawk Workers spokesperson Jason Bowman said he found the city’s decision to bar the protesters from council chambers “very troubling.”
“Meetings are supposed to be open to the public,” Bowman said outside city hall.
Bowman said the group wanted to address councillors and hear why they chose the “inhumane and bizarre tactic” of cutting off water service to Kanata Village, the disputed Mohawk Street site that currently serves as the Mohawk Workers’ headquarters.
The Workers did not formally ask to be on the meeting agenda, Bowman said.
“(Locking the doors) sends a message that they don’t want the public in here listening to what they’re talking about,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re afraid of the public.”
The group marched in a large circle and sang, waving signs and banners declaring the Mohawks to be the rightful owners of Kanata Village.
Bowman linked the protest with the national day of action in support of Idle No More. “This is a peaceful protest,” he said. “We’ve come here with serious grievances. They’re grievances shared by people all around the world and Brantford is really the belly of the beast.”
However, Mayor Chris Friel said the demonstration was merely the latest of Bowman’s “shenanigans” on behalf of the Mohawk Workers.
“I think it’s a remarkable disservice that Jason Bowman and the Kanata group are using Idle No More as a means of advancing their particular political mission,” Friel said.
Friel said “silliness” such as the protest detracted from the “very real needs” of the Six Nations community that the city’s liaison committee is trying to address in conjunction with the County of Brant and Six Nations elected council. The liaison committee met with MPs in Ottawa in December to push for increased federal involvement in land claims negotiations.
The mayor defended locking the doors of city hall during a public meeting. He said the city had received “a credible threat” that the Workers intended to disrupt Monday’s meeting.
“I for one am very passionate about the democratic process,” he said. “Those individuals would…come into our building and disrupt our council meeting and stop the democratic process.”
Friel said the Workers were told they were welcome to protest outside, but that they could not enter the building.
“Enough shenanigans from Jason Bowman and his ilk,” the mayor said. “None of us have the patience for it any more.”
The lockout prevented local businessman Scott Wood from attending Monday’s meeting as he had planned.
“I’m a little bit disappointed as a citizen,” Wood said. “I wanted to address the councillors directly, but I guess that’s not going to happen.”
Friel expressed regret that citizens unrelated to the protest were barred entry, but noted that some members of the public did enter and that the meeting was televised.
The Mohawk Workers contend that the city should honour the spirit of the Two Row Wampum by halting development on the “contested sites” of Tutela Heights and the Hardy Road area until land claims are resolved.
Before cutting off utilities to Kanata Village, the city had paid almost $50,000 in heat, hydro, water and telephone bills. The Workers assumed responsibility for the hydro bill last month, but the city has yet to turn on the water.