Traffic ground to a standstill for about an hour Wednesday morning as more than 300 Idle No More protesters, many beating drums and waving placards, streamed onto the Patricia Bay Highway.
About 2,000 vehicles were diverted but two dozen were caught in the middle of the blockade. Although Central Saanich police fielded calls from upset drivers, there were no serious confrontations.
“We understand it’s disruptive to people and we certainly weren’t supporting this as a police service, but we have a higher responsibility to keep people safe,” said deputy police chief Les Sylven.
Some drivers demanded to know why police were not acting more strongly, he said.
“We know it was an inconvenience, but, at the same time, it was peaceful and the main goal was to make sure no one got hurt,” Sylven said.
Protest organizers, many from Tsawout and Tsartlip First Nations, did a good job of marshalling demonstrators and stopping traffic not caught by detours at Island View Road and Amity Road, police said.
The blockade aimed to bring attention to lack of government recognition of the Douglas Treaties, environmental problems and the Harper government’s omnibus bills that opponents say will undermine environmental protections for all Canadians.
The Pat Bay Highway was a deliberate choice for the blockade.
“We are shutting down this highway because this highway runs through our land. Government pushed it through without proper consultation or compensation for our people,” said Tsawout treaty officer Eric Pelkey, an Idle No More organizer.
Tsartlip Murray Sampson, dressed in full regalia, said everyone must stand together to oppose a system that rejects the constitutional rights of First Nations.
“These children deserve to see a life,” he said, looking at the crowd that included teens and moms pushing strollers.
About two-thirds of the demonstrators were First Nations and the remainder non-aboriginal, some carrying placards saying “Support Our Aboriginal Neighbours.”
Mary Jack, 80, a Tseycum elder, watched from a lawn chair on the traffic-free highway.
“I am here to give a lot of support as an elder. I hope that the government hears and sees what we are doing. They have broken a lot of our treaty rights,” she said.
“This makes me feel stronger.”
Those left sitting in stationary vehicles were largely supportive.
“I am OK with it. They have got to do extreme things to make things happen,” said Ayah Soliman.
“I have to be at work, but, oh well, there’s nothing I can do about it and I’m kind of enjoying it.”
It was not so clear-cut for Hilary Georgia, whose mother is dying from ALS.
“I stepped out to get a baby monitor and this has definitely set me back. I am anxious,” she said.
Georgia said she supports the Idle No More cause, but wonders whether blockades are the right way to get the message across.
“I believe in free speech, but I really need to get back to my mom,” she said.
© Copyright 2013