Talk about your “Indian time”!
It was 16 years ago this Sept. 5 that an Ontario Provincial Police sniper gunned down Anthony Dudley George, one of 30 unarmed First Nations people protesting the expropriation of Kettle and Stony Point lands for a military base and provincial park.
It’s been 69 years since Camp Ipperwash was created under the War Measures Act. In 1998 the federal government agreed to return the military base. One of the 100 recommendations issued in 2007 by the Ipperwash Inquiry into Dudley’s George’s death was that the federal government assume complete responsibility for environmental cleanup of Camp Ipperwash and immediately return it to the First Nation.
And 74 years have passed since Stoney Point Chief and Council told park authorities there was a burial ground in Ipperwash Park -- a position subsequently validated by archaeological assessments. In 2007 Ontario’s McGuinty government agreed to turn over the park’s 56-acre site on the shore of Lake Huron to the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point.
Ownership of the stolen lands remains with the federal and provincial governments.
“It’s going to take years,” says Kettle and Stony Point Chief Elizabeth Cloud, who tries to maintain a sense of optimism for the sake of citizens of her emotionally –battered community. “In honour of Dudley’s memory, we’re working as hard as we can to return those lands to our care.”
By First Nations standards, these time frames are actually tiny. It’s nothing for land claims to take over a century to be resolved, which is why there’s a current backlog of about 800 of them.
When the shoe is on the other bureaucratic foot, things have to be done in a real hurry. First Nations are constantly being harassed about meeting the deadlines for the 100-or-so annual reports they are required to submit to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, or risk holdups in operational funding.
The painstaking work of trying to negotiate such issues can be a pretty thankless job. When First Nations citizens complain about what to them might seem inaction on important files, they usually have no idea how many hours, days, and years have been invested in discussions that move slower than drying paint. First Nations elders, veterans and residential school survivors literally die before their oral history on land claims, or their legitimate grievances and claims for compensation can be heard.
Using Ipperwash as a case in point, Union of Ontario Indians staff have spent days around tables with government bureaucrats, trying to breathe life into those 100 Ipperwash Inquiry recommendations through a joint process called IIPAC – The Ipperwash Inquiry Priorities and Action Committee. First Nations members of a communications sub-table found themselves debating with Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs staff whether it was “too political” to mention in a joint newsletter that Dudley George was killed by a provincial police officer!
Meanwhile, the man whose Conservative government’s “Common Sense Revolution” claimed Dudley George’s life –Mike Harris – goes about his business of polishing his somewhat tarnished image, serving on corporate boards and having university libraries named in his honour.
After accepting four books from me at the June 25 official opening of the Harris Learning Library, the former North Bay golf pro and Ontario premier took time out of his busy schedule to write that he had forwarded the titles to library officials. He took the opportunity to dismiss one of the books – “One Dead Indian” by award-winning Toronto Star journalist Peter Edwards -- as “full of false innuendo, half truths and incorrect conclusions” that was “not reflective at all of either my role or my government’s role in the Ipperwash events in question.”
Mr. Harris did not object to three other books I asked him to pass on to university officials for use in an area designated as a Treaty Learning Centre. All three referred to the killing of Dudley George on Sept. 6, 1995, including the Anishinabek Nation booklet “Treaties Matter”, which noted: “Sam George sat in the front row at the Ipperwash Inquiry, just a few feet away from witnesses, including former Premier Mike Harris, whose impatience to ‘get the (expletive) Indians out of the park’ was determined to have created an environment that made the tragedy more likely to happen.”
I have just received a letter from Brian Nettlefold, Nipissing’s Executive Director, Libraries, confirming that “We have decided to keep these books together in the Archive of this Library, for the benefit of present and future scholars.”
May those books be read by students for at least as long as it takes for the lands of Kettle and Stony Point to be returned to their rightful custodians.
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.