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Massena Mayor defends supervisor, says bridge should stay open

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MASSENA - Mayor James F. Hidy called a press conference late Friday morning to reiterate his support for Supervisor Joseph D. Gray and to call for an end to Native American protests that close the Massena-Cornwall International Bridge.

“We try to handle situations in a civil manner, and I think disrupting any norms (in travel and commerce) is not a civil manner. It sends the wrong message,” Mr. Hidy said. “It creates a lot of distress, and it disrupts the harmony of the area.”

Mr. Gray came under heavy fire after he wrote a blog suggesting a protest that closed the bridge for nearly five hours Saturday was pointless. Native American leaders countered by suggesting they would launch a boycott of Massena businesses. Mr. Gray later wrote a second blog entry apopogizing for his initial comments.

Mr. Hidy on Friday urged protestors to engage in “good dialogue” and to work with their St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council officials to try to enact change in U.S. or Canadian policies. He also asked protestors to consider the people who use the bridge on a regular basis.

“We have many people navigating that bridge daily. It’s frustrating” when the bridge is shut down, Mr. Hidy said. “I think people have to look at it from the point of view of the law-abiding citizens (who need access to the bridge).”

Mr. Hidy’s comments come three days after Mr. Gray posted a blog titled, “Pointless Bridge-Closing Protests Must Stop,” in which he 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.

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.

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.

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

Mr. Hidy believes Mr. Gray’s first blog was taken out of context and St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council Chief Ron LaFrance’s comment - in which he noted Awkwesasne residents could drive to Malone for their shopping needs, instead of Massena - was made in the “heat of frustration.” He also said he “would hope” Mr. LaFrance would rescind the comment in an effort to promote unity between the two communities.

“I think both parties should come together and devise a way for how we can each continue to promote each other,” Mr. Hidy said. “I’m hoping cooler heads can prevail.”

Mr. LaFrance denied that he’d ever encouraged a boycott of Massena businesses and suggested the mayor’s request that he rescind his comments on the blog shows Mr. Hidy is “just as crazy as Mr. Gray.” Mr. LaFrance also thinks Mr. Hidy is so uninformed about the reason for the protests that he is unable to make a fair judgment.

“(Mr. Hidy) is not from our community; he doesn’t understand what the protests are for,” Mr. LaFrance said. “It’s not up to him to persuade us not to protest.”

Charles J. Kader, clerk of the Men’s Council of the People of the Way of the Longhouse, also blasted Mr. Hidy’s comments, calling them inaccurate and out of place.

“What Mr. Hidy is swerving into is the business of the people of Awkwesasne,” Mr. Kader said. “We are law-observing people; (we observe the Great Law of Peace, which) compels us to act in a vigorous way to defend our way of life. The lack of acute vision that (Mr. Hidy) is reflecting requires him to be reminded that he should not be trying to meddle into (Mohawk Indian) affairs.”

Mr. Gray and Mr. Hidy expressed a desire for talks with Mohawk officials in an effort to promote unity between the communities and to avoid future bridge-closings.

Though he could not speak for other Mohawk chiefs, Mr. LaFrance said he has no interest in holding discussions with either official. “I don’t want to meet with them. They’ve made their bed and now they have to sleep in it,” Mr. LaFrance said.

Mr. Kader also alluded to the possibility of future protests along the bridge to protest the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed remediation of the Grasse River and discussions to relocate the Canadian Border Services Agency checkpoint to the American side of the bridge.

“I would assume that even larger demonstrations of Akwesasne residents might be called into play in those two instances, which may include further exercises on the international bridge there,” Mr. Kader said.

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