Media Analysis of The Ipperwash Crisis, 1995

The history of colonialism is one that remains embedded institutionally and is seen in present norms and ideologies. It is not surprising then, that media representations work to reinforce these ideas by reporting through a biased lens, working to legitimatize unjust actions against those deemed to be the problem. The Ipperwash crisis can serve as an example of where the media’s representations worked to reinforce normative ideologies by painting the image of the aboriginal to be one of a criminal. The fact that the Indigenous peoples were engaging in dissent to both protect land and bring awareness to historical conflicts involving land possession, was ignored and was replaced with the narrative of violence, criminality and destruction. Below, five articles will be analyzed to demonstrate the ways in which media representation of the series of events and the actors involved in the Ipperwash crisis can vary while at the same time usually sharing in the support and maintenance of race hierarchies and colonial ideologies.

In the article, Police play waiting game at Ipperwashthe Indigenous peoples that were occupying Ipperwash provincial park in protest to the use of burial ground being destroyed for military occupation and use are depicted as deviants causing disruptions. This image over shadows the reality that those involved were rather looking for change, with a deeply historical cause. This is seen in the way that the article discusses the Indigenous peoples occupation of the park. The article states that

“the park superintendent, accompanied by OPP officers, served “verbal notice” to natives at the Ipperwash Provincial Park in Southwestern Ontario late Monday night that they were trespassing, Smith said, but the natives refused to leave (London Free Press 1995)”

This description creates an image of the Indigenous peoples involved to be one that is deviant and criminal as they are described to be “trespassing” and refusing to leave the park despite verbal orders from the superintendent and the OPP. The focus on the supposed illegal actions of the protestors works to deflect their cause and the history of the land they are fighting for. Furthermore, it is assumed that the presence of the protestors will result in violence as the article reassures readers of the safety of those who are not engaging in the protest: “all campers had left and people using the park for the day were evacuated by park staff”. Contributing to construction of fear is the description of Indigenous people engaging in burning park signs and the supposed absence of a “reason for the occupation” (London Free Press 1995). The article works to represent the occupation of the Indigenous peoples in Ipperwash Provincial Park to be unjustified, inconvenient and without cause, maintaining colonial ideologies and the assumed entitlement of white settlers to Indigenous land.

An article titled, “Police move in on native protesters One reported dead at Ipperwash found in The Globe and Mail, describes the move of the OPP into the park. The article identifies the protestors as violent and out of control as the long list of criminal justice system actors is described when naming those who were part of the rush early on September 7th, 1995. The night invasion was later justified by noting, “the night before, natives hurled stones at police cruisers, damaging three vehicles” (The Globe and Mail 1995). By ensuring that the police units are seen as heroes entering a dangerous space occupied by criminals and deviants, the image of the Indigenous peoples as destructive, and unlawful is maintained, along with racial hierarchies informed by colonial histories.

The article, “Rebels without a cause is in line with those above, as it supports the idea of the criminal Indigenous person and non-indigenous state actors who were brave enough to control the protestors. Lajoie (1995) starts the article with describing the tension, “natives occupying Ipperwash Provincial Park continued to glare across a barbed wire fence at riot-equipped OPP officers”. This introductory statement instantly sets the scene of the protest, with the OPP as the “good guys” and the Indigenous peoples as dangerous, and violent deviants. The mention of riot gear reinforces the notion of violence and unlawful behaviour, calling for control. By focusing on the separation between the police and the protestors the reason for the protest goes ignored. Furthering the association of violence with the protestors, Lajoie describes how “there has been violence at the standoff. Late Tuesday night three OPP squad cars were barraged with rocks thrown from inside the main gate”. This situation is described without any background information, and only focuses on the actions of the Indigenous peoples, there is no information provided as to any conflict that occurring prior to the incident. The article continues to discredit the presence of the Indigenous people in the park as there is a dismissal of the “claim” of a burial ground or land claims. It is clear that the state actors are represented as superior to the Indigenous peoples who are criminalized for engaging in dissent, by occupying Ipperwash Provincial Park.

The way in which events are described makes an incredible difference in the way that they are understood by the audience. It is clear that a bias is engrained in the article,tension ignites at standoff: Protester shot by police at abarricade” by McDougall and McCann despite the attempt to present both sides. This can be seen as the dispute and violent outbreak that resulted in the death of Dudley George, is presented from one perspective. The article claims to present both “sides” of the events and starts by presenting the claims of the police,

“police said violence broke out about 8 p.m. Wednesday when aboriginals armed with baseball bats trashed a car. ‘Officers arriving at the scene were peppered with rocks before protesters started firing at them from inside a charging school bus and another vehicle that crashed through a fence, smashed into a dumpster and drove straight for the riot squad’, said Sgt. Doug Babbitt” (McDougall and McCann 1995)

It is clear that this account of the events supports the idea of criminality and deviance that have been used to represent the protestors. Violence is identifies as a key aspect of the protest, which deflects the attention of the issue that of land claims and the destruction of burial grounds that the protestors want to change. To attempt a “balance” telling of the events, the article shifts to include the account of the protestors, “aboriginals told a different story. They said they were armed only with rocks and the bus was backing up when police opened fire. They also said one of the injured men was beaten by officers” (McDougall and McCann 1995). Although it is presented to be a balanced description of events, the article gives legitimacy to the series of events as told by the OPP. This can be seen as there is little commentary on the protestors recount, dismissing the claims and merely using them to further support the image of violence and unlawful behaviour.

The legitimacy of the police is finally questioned, rather than supported in the article, “Investigators kept out of Ipperwashby Peter Moon at The Globe and Mail. This can be seen as the shooting and killing of Dudley George is questioned and described as possibility illegitimate. The position of the protestors is further legitimatized as the wrongs of the military through their occupation and use of the land is recognized. The frustration of the protestors is justified by Moon and shown in a new light, outside of the majority of media representations surrounding the Ipperwash Crisis.

As it has been demonstrated, media representations of the Ipperwash Crisis were flawed and one-sided, supporting racial hierarchies and historically engrained colonial ideologies. The entitlement of settlers to the land is reinforced in newspaper articles reporting on the events as the protestors presence and occupation of the land is seen to be illegitimate. The protestors claims that the land is a scared burial ground were discredited without historical support and the image of the Indigenous criminal was able to be maintained. It can be seen through the articles above that media reports on the Ipperwash Crisis were supportive of the actions of the OPP, even when it came to the death of, Dudley George. Violence was a focal point and was used to demonize protestors and justify police actions. Ultimately, colonial ideologies were supported and legitimized through the media’s reports on the Ipperwash Crisis.

References:

Global and Mail. Police move in on native protesters one reported dead at Ipperwash. (1995, Sep 07). The Globe and Mail Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/384944980?accountid=15182

Lajoie, Don. (1995, Sep 07). Rebels without a cause. The Windsor Star Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/254138335?accountid=15182

London, Free Press. (1995, Sep 06). Police play waiting game at Ipperwash. The Windsor Star Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/254183115?accountid=15182

McDougall, Deborah and, Wendy McCann. (1995, Sep 08). Tension ignites at standoff: Protester shot by police at native barricade. Kingston Whig – Standard Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/353169673?accountid=15182

Moon, Peter. (1995, Sep 12). Investigators kept out of Ipperwash. The Globe and Mail (1936-Current) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/1140795763?accountid=15182

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