Ipperwash: An Indigenous Resistance

As an important piece of Canadian and Indigenous history, the Ipperwash crisis was a fatal Indigenous land claims protest against the Canadian government in 1995 (Morden, 2013). The origins of the conflict at Ipperwash are deeply rooted in past socio-historical relations between the Canadian state and Indigenous people throughout the twentieth century (Morden, 2013, p. 510).

Located in Southern Ontario, Stoney Point First Nation lands have been an issue of conflict between Indigenous people and the Canadian government for a significant period of time. In 1927, the government of Ontario acquired the shoreline tracks of Stoney Point reserve and consequently, created “Ipperwash Provincial Park” to promote travel and tourism along the shores of Lake Huron (Morden, 2013, p. 510). This was the first conflict between the indigenous people of Stoney Point and the Canadian government. A decade later during World War II, which was a time of increased war efforts on Canada’s home front, the Canadian government identified Stoney Point as a suitable site for the building of a military base and training camp (Morden, 2013, p. 510). Despite the band council’s rejection of the government’s proposal and the absence of consent to the proposition by residents, Stoney Point Reserve was seized by the government through the implementation of the War Measures Act in 1942 (Morden, 2013, p. 510). Subsequently, families living on Stoney Point were forcibly removed and relocated, with the promise that the lands would be returned to its rightful owners upon completion of the war (Morden, 2013, p. 510). Following the war, however, the military base continued to remain in operation despite the government’s assertion that the confiscated lands would be “decommissioned and returned in peacetime” (Morden, 2013, p. 510). The Canadian government’s refusal to honour its promises meant that tensions and frustrations by Indigenous people were growing throughout the decades over this important, yet unresolved issue (Cowan & Lindgren, 2007b).

Over fifty years after its seizure, on Monday September 4th, 1995, Indigenous protesters entered and occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park with the intention of “advancing [on their] territorial claim,” and protecting sacred Anishinabek burial grounds within the park (Morden, 2013, p. 511). With tensions and altercations escalating throughout the day between the OPP and protestors, officers were instructed to withdraw from the park, deciding that it was not a “viable option” to have officers alongside occupiers (Linden, 2007, p. 206, 213). Following this decision, the OPP began to patrol the Park’s parameters, employing boat, air, and ground surveillance throughout the surrounding area to monitor protestors and increase police presence (Linden, 2007, p. 260). On September 6th, Ontario Premier Mike Harris instructed the OPP that Ipperwash operations were to come to an immediate conclusion within twenty-four hours through the removal of occupiers (Cowan & Lindgren, 2007b; Cowan & Lindgren, 2007a; Linden, 2007, p. 357). Premier Harris’s prompt decision was not a cautious approach, as it did not include engaging dialogue between the two parties (Cowan & Lindgren, 2007a; Linden, 2007, p. 358). As a result, the Premier’s orders removed the possibility of ending the conflict peacefully through a mutual solution (Cowan & Lindgren, 2007a). A day later on September 6th, Dudley George, a member of Anishinabek First Nation, was fatally shot by Ontario Provincial Police officer Ken Deane despite being unarmed (Cowan & Lindgren, 2007a; Hedican, 2012; Morden, 2013).

In November 2003, nearly a decade after Dudley’s controversial death, the Canadian government began to examine the events at Ipperwash through evidentiary hearings and testimonies (Linden, 2007). Commissioner Sidney Linden was assigned to the “Ipperwash Inquiry,” an investigative process and document that critically examined police procedures throughout the protests, the death of Dudley George, as well as recommendations directed to avoiding similar violence in future confrontations (Cowan & Lindgren, 2007b; Hedican, 2012; Linden, 2007; Morden, 2013). What was initially deemed a short-term occupation for the use of a military base, resulted in a long-term governmental expropriation of Ipperwash and an ongoing conflict between the Canadian government and Indigenous people (Cowan & Lindgren, 2007b). Ipperwash is a very significant political protest that illustrates how the role of governmental power and police discretionary power is vital in the criminalization of Indigenous dissent and the disregard of their marginalized voices (Morden, 2013).

 

Reference List:

Cowan, J., & Lindgren, A. (2007a, June 1). Ont. Inquiry blames police, governments for Ipperwash death; “No apology is required” from Harris. The Edmonton Journal, p. A9.

Cowan, J., & Lindgren, A. (2007b, June 1). Deadly mix of frustration, mistakes led to Ipperwash death, report finds: [Final Edition]. Times- Colonist, p. A6.

Hedican, E.J. (2012). Policing Aboriginal Protests and Confrontations: Some Policy Recommendations. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 3(2), 1-17.

Linden, S. (2007). Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry. Retrieved from: http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/inquiries/ipperwash/report/index.html

Morden, M. (2013). Telling Stories about Conflict: Symbolic Politics and the Ipperwash Land Transfer Agreement. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 46(3), 505-524.

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