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Updated Wed. Apr. 2 2003 6:22 PM ET

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Mohawks end blockade northwest of Montreal

Canadian Press

KANESATAKE, Que. — Mohawks upset over a policing deal pleased motorists on Wednesday when they dismantled a blockade that had snarled traffic for several days northwest of Montreal.

Protesters had been blocking Highway 344 since last Friday because they were annoyed that Grand Chief James Gabriel negotiated a policing deal with Ottawa without consulting the band council. The deal ensures the current Kanesatake police force remains in place, staffed by Mohawk, Cree and Mi'kmaq officers. Protesters want only Mohawk police officers on the job.

Federal officials from the Department of Indian Affairs had invited six band council members to a meeting, provided protesters dismantled the barricade. The meeting is now expected to go ahead.

Chief Steven Bonspille said the federal government should have acted sooner.

"Everything has to hit a boiling point before you get any action on anything," Bonspille told radio station CJAD.

"It's really unfortunate that it had to happen in order to obtain a meeting to address the concerns of Mohawks of Kanesatake."

The dissident chiefs, including Bonspille, Pearl Bonspille and John Harding have demanded that all police officers who patrol the reserve be Mohawks. They also want a say in the policing budget.

The blockade was the latest manifestation of a power struggle within the six-member band council.

The seventh seat, which could break the deadlock, has been vacant since the death of chief Crawford Gabriel last year.

The Kanesatake Mohawk community was at the heart of the 1990 Oka standoff. In July of that year, a dispute over a golf course on the reserve triggered a 78-day standoff with armed Mohawk militants.

One Quebec provincial police officer was killed during the dispute, which saw armed Mohawks square off against police and Canadian soldiers.

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