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Native groups plan to block two major traffic arteries

Native groups are planning to set up blockades on two major traffic arteries in Ontario on Thursday, despite provincial aboriginal leaders promising to not shut down roads during the G20 and G8 summits in return for a deal on exemptions from Ontario's harmonized sales tax.

One group, Red Power United, said 20 to 30 people would blockade Highway 403 outside Hamilton on Thursday, a national day of action for aboriginal rights. Another 200 people from Fort William First Nation are expected to block the Trans-Canada Highway outside Thunder Bay for five hours the same day. The world leaders' summits begin Friday in Huntsville, Ont.

Alvin Fiddler, a senior policy adviser at the Independent First Nations Alliance, a tribal council representing five communities, was reached as he was driving home from an annual meeting of native leaders in Fort Frances, Ont. He said a major topic of conversation there was the agreement over the HST and a "general sense of relief" that provincial tax exemptions will continue for natives after the harmonized sales tax goes into effect on July 1.

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"It's difficult to understand why [the protesters]are doing it," Chief Fiddler said. "It was clearly explained to the leadership this weekend about the terms of the agreement."

Natives in Ontario were upset that they would begin paying point-of-sale tax once the HST goes into effect. They have not paid provincial sales tax at the register for three decades.

During negotiations with the federal government, there was a one-day railway blockade and Stan Beardy, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, said "we will shut down the country if we have to." But further actions were averted after a last-minute accord.

Chief Beardy said "there was no information shared with the chiefs" about Thursday's blockades.

Neither chief had heard of the group demonstrating in Hamilton. Chief Beardy added it was sometimes difficult to control grassroots organizations.

A statement on Red Power United's website said the protests were being held to "stand up for our native rights and show the world that everything is not OK in Canada for native people."

A spokesman for the group, Harrison Friesen, had said previously that the demonstrators "will only resist if [police]threaten violence against us." He could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

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With reports from Karen Howlett and The Canadian Press

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