WEST OF PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE -- A day-long protest that defied a court injunction and halted road and rail traffic at Highway 16 near the Trans-Canada Highway ended after darkness fell Wednesday.
A handful of protesters had blockaded the main CN train track just west of Portage la Prairie, blocking a train and stopping trucks and cars on the Highway 16, known as the Yellowhead Highway.
"We're done, for the night," said former Long Plain First Nation Chief Peter YellowQuill. Dressed in a light hoodie with only a thin wool tuque to ward off a -35 C wind chill, he said he and three women at the blockade felt they got their message out. They wouldn't say when another blockade could spring up.
The four joined in a group hug as snow started to fall, then kicked off the saplings laid over the rail tracks and dispersed. About seven southbound tractor-trailers stopped by the blockade on the Yellowhead fired up their engines and started moving, running a gauntlet of parked media vans and RCMP cruisers.
Earlier, CN obtained an injunction declaring all blockades on its rail lines in Manitoba illegal and ordering aboriginal protesters to leave the property, but police did not arrest or evict any.
RCMP officers, led by the local detachment inspector, talked briefly with protesters. Police then spoke among themselves and returned, telling the protesters they did not intend to arrest them. Instead, they would divert traffic away from the area.
"It's clear we are defying the court order... it is null and void," said YellowQuill. He said the blockade is intended to send a message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honour the treaties or the protests will continue.
CN Rail spokesman Jim Feeny said the injunction protecting railways from blockades was obtained in Court of Queen's Bench, adding it's in force until Jan. 24 and can be extended if necessary.
About noon Wednesday, a CN freight train was forced to stop several hundred metres from people on the tracks, at least one of them lying across the rails.
"The train is basically hauling natural resources. It's hauling billions and billions of dollars worth of First Nations wealth," said former Roseau River chief Terry Nelson.
"It's hauling oil, it's hauling timber, it's hauling gravel -- it's hauling everything, basically, that comes from the land. It's our property if the treaties have been breached."
Nelson originally said he would remain at the blockade for 72 hours, but left after only a few hours, saying the group intended to challenge the injunction.
He referred to people who are "not indigenous" as "immigrants."
"We want to get the immigrants who came to our land to understand something: They're living on our lands, they're living on our resources, they're living on our wealth," he said.
The protesters originally let motorists continue on Highway 16 but by 4 p.m., the blockade had extended across the highway, blocking traffic north and south on it.
Protesters linked hands and stood on the CN rail tracks. Behind them, an aboriginal man who gave his name as Dancing Wolf beat a steady rhythm on a hand drum.
A century ago, the track sliced through a large Ojibwa settlement at this location, carving up the community that later formed the three First Nations of Long Plain, Sandy Bay and Swan Lake.
"This track divided us, split up our community," YellowQuill said.
"This fight's been going on since Aug. 4, 1871. The date marked the signing of Treaty 1 that opened up Western Canada for settlement."
In Winnipeg, about 25 people rallied downtown at Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard, then marched to the steps of the legislature. The group from Berens River First Nation wanted their voices heard on issues affecting their band, such as education and healthy living conditions.
-- with files from Aldo Santin, Gabrielle Giroday
Day of protest
ABORIGINAL protests across the country Wednesday:
Hundreds of people gathered at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., to temporarily snarl the busiest Canada-U.S. border-crossing point. At one point, transport trucks were lined up for about a kilometre.
A human blockade was set up on a rail line near Belleville, Ont. Via Rail said it halted the movement of trains between Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
In downtown Toronto, about 100 people slowly made their way through the city's core, snarling traffic as they marched toward Dundas Square.
Marchers diverted traffic from a bridge in Miramichi, the biggest city in northern New Brunswick. About 150 people rallied outside the residence of New Brunswick Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas.
In Quebec, about two hours northeast of Ottawa, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake slowed traffic along Highway 117.
In Edmonton, protesters slowed traffic to a crawl on the busy highway artery that connects the capital city to Calgary.
In northern Alberta, members of the Lubicon Lake Nation staged information checkpoints through the oilsands region.
About 100 protesters gathered outside community hearings on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in Vancouver.
About 200 First Nations protesters took part in a highway blockade north of Victoria. Protesters were also blocking a CN Rail line in northwest B.C.
-- The Canadian Press