The Ipperwash Crisis: How the News Media Portrayed It

The Ipperwash Crisis received extensive news media coverage as several different news agencies began to report and record what was occurring at the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park on a daily basis. However, it should be noted that while the notion of “reporting” by these news agenics evokes an idea of objectivity and the neutral observation of events, the media both overemphasized smaller aspects of the Ipperwash Crisis while simultaneously ignoring the underlying reasons that caused this event of indigenous resistance. In his book, Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States, Boykoff underlines the fact that in the mass media’s framing of social movements, there is a focus on particular elements of a social movement which essentially causes the underlying purpose for dissent to be ignored (Boykoff, 2007, p. 217). Furthermore, Adese states that the news media works to both inform and educate the public on social movements and that this influences how the public views these events (Adese, 2009, p. 275). Both of these authors indicate that the media has a crucial impact on how social movements are understood by the public, which further demonstrates that the news media is not necessarily objective. Therefore, it is important to perform an analysis on how the news media reported and misconstrued the reasons for why indigenous peoples were protesting and how these indigenous protesters were portrayed to the public during the Ipperwash Crisis.

To conduct this analysis, five different newspaper articles published by the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and The Montreal Gazette have been collected. While it is possible to analyze the Ipperwash Crisis from the perspective of just one newspaper, it seems much more preferable to use multiple sources. By using a variety of newspaper sources covering the same event, it is possible to see the dominant rhetorics and the types of frames that exist within the mass media when this dissident movement was reported to the public.

Through a synthesis of these articles, a multitude of dominant frames and rhetorics appeared. These frames and rhetorics ultimately served to reconfigure the protesters and their occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park in various ways. In her work, Adese discusses how the mass media utilizes three dominant rhetorics to frame the members of a reclamation project as terrorists (Adese, 2009, p. 278). She states that this involves the protesters first being configured as representing the interests of all indigenous peoples by labelling them “natives”, then depicting them as violent and militant law-breakers and finally stating that they are disturbing the peaceful co-existence between indigenous peoples and Canadians (Adese, 2009, p.278). Through a deconstruction of the articles collected from these newspapers, these three dominant rhetorics can easily be observed.

In regards to the first dominant rhetoric, a few of these articles attempt to conflate all indigenous peoples as the same. In an article to The Globe and Mail, Koring combines both the Ipperwash Crisis in Ontario and the Gustafsen Lake protest in British Columbia in one article to demonstrate the possibility of more violence and militancy from indigenous protestors (Koring, 7 September 1995). Similarly, in the Toronto Star, van Rijn lists many different armed confrontations between indigenous dissenters and the police throughout the country in the previous months before the Ipperwash Crisis (van Rijn, 8 September 1995). These loose connections between different indigenous protesters essentially create a discourse that all indigenous peoples are the same. It also works to state that indigenous dissent is inevitable and that the Ipperwash Crisis was likely to occur without providing the historical reasons for why this specific group of indigenous peoples, the Chippewas, were protesting. Thus, the media purported armed confrontation between different indigenous groups as the inevitable result of all indigenous protests through this dominant rhetoric.

The second dominant rhetoric of indigenous protesters being violent, law-breaking and militant can virtually be seen in every newspaper article. Additionally, this dominant rhetoric is intricately connected to how the news media uses the violence frame to overemphasize the violence that occurred at the Ipperwash Provincial Park. Boykoff states that under this frame, the mass media heavily focuses on either the violence or the potential for violence, which causes the reader to associate violence as an unavoidable consequence of protests (Boykoff, 2007, p. 222-223). Many of these articles have highlighted both the violence that occurred during the occupation and the potential for more violent incidents, especially after the death of Chippewa protester Dudley George. For example, Koring reports how Ovide Mercredi, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations during the Ipperwash Crisis, believed that violence between indigenous peoples and the police would be imminent (Koring, 7 September 1995). It is interesting to note that this article was published one day after the death of Dudley George, yet this incident is not discussed. Furthermore, without implicating the state’s police forces as also being involved in the previous day’s violent confrontation, reporting on how indigenous leaders believe that violence is imminent works to misconstrue all indigenous protest as potentially violent.

The problem with this frame is that it overemphasized the relatively small aspect of violence and ignored the actual reasons that led to the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park. Boykoff examines how the news media often fails to provide accurate context for why a social movement is happening (Boykoff, 2007, p. 220). This means that dissident movements, like the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park, are decontextualized through framing, as other elements of that social movement are reported on. For instance, the decontextualization of the Ipperwash Crisis through the violence frame can easily be seen in Koring’s article. In his coverage of the Ipperwash Crisis, he reported how indigenous leader Ovide Mercredi warned of more violence because indigenous peoples felt that the state had failed them (Koring, 7 September 1995). What is missing in his article is the reason why indigenous peoples felt that the system failed them and why the Chippewa band decided to occupy Ipperwash Provincial Park.

Finally, the third dominant rhetoric about how these indigenous protesters are a group of rebels disrupting the peaceful co-existence between Canadians and indigenous peoples can also be seen in several articles, especially in articles that exhibit both the second dominant rhetoric and the violence frame. For example, after the death of Dudley George, an article in the Montreal Gazette referred to the protesters as “rebel Chippewas” (“Cops, Indians blame each other for bloody Ipperwash gun battle”, 8 September 1995). The usage of the word, “rebel” connotes an idea that these protesters are purposely disrupting the peace between indigenous peoples and Canadian citizens. In her work, Adese discusses how the term “rebel” purports that some indigenous peoples are dangerous and must be contained in order to restore peace within Canadian society (Adese, 2009, p. 281). This is problematic, as it essentially dehistoricized the reasons for the occupation of Ipperwash and also transformed the protesters as dangerous individuals who must be policed. Furthermore, by using the word “rebel”, these indigenous protesters are constructed as not being representative of the broader indigenous population. By separating these indigenous protesters from the rest of the indigenous population, their forms of protest and expressions of dissent are seen as illegitimate and thus should be ignored since they do not represent the broader population.

The portrayal of these protesters as rebels further entrenched a notion that the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park is disruptive to other Canadian citizens. In his analysis of the media’s portrayal of dissident movements, Boykoff states that one way that the media frames these movements is through the disruption frame, with one theme of this frame being that the protesters disrupted the lives of ordinary citizens (Boykoff, 2007, p. 228). For instance, Lackey’s article in the Toronto Star reveals that local residents were disgruntled with the standoff, feared for their safety and advocated that the police remove the “Indians” from Ipperwash (Lackey, 9 September 1995). A notable remark in his article is how the individuals he interviewed did not give any personal information as they feared retaliation from the Chippewa protesters (Lackey, 9 September 1995). Comments like this one construct the Chippewa protesters as ruthlessly violent and ultimately a disruption to the peace, which further serves to justify state violence over these protesters. Therefore, the establishment of the Chippewas as lawless, violent rebels that disrupted the lives of these local residents reproduced an “us vs. them” mentality, as the local residents believed that the Chippewa protesters were a threat to their safety and that the police needed to restore the peace.

While many of these articles narrowly focused on the violence that resulted during the Ipperwash Crisis, it should be acknowledged that there were some articles that sought to comprehend why the Chippewa peoples were protesting. In his article for The Globe and Mail, Moon provides a detailed historical explanation about how the War Measures Act was used to dislocate the Stoney Point band from their land to build a base during World War II and how these protesters sought to have their land returned to them from the state (Moon, 8 September 1995). However, even when a historical explanation for the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park is given, there is still a heavy emphasis on the violence of “rebellious” indigenous protesters. According to Moon, the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park had attracted a violent renegade group of protesters (Moon, 8 September 1995). Thus, the dominant rhetorics and the types of frames that overemphasized both the violence and disruption during the Ipperwash Crisis were also reproduced in newspaper articles that sought to contextualize this dissident social movement.

It therefore seems that despite there being different news media agencies reporting on the Ipperwash Crisis, several dominant rhetorics and frames were constantly reproduced. These rhetorics and frames ultimately overemphasized certain elements of the Ipperwash Crisis, such as the potential for violence while the historical reasons for this dissident movement were mostly ignored. In turn, the indigenous peoples participating in the occupation were transformed as a rebellious, dangerous and militant group through these rhetorics and framing techniques. Ultimately, it could be seen that the news media misconstrued the occupation at Ipperwash Provincial Park.

Reference List:

Adese, J. (2009). Constructing the Aboriginal terrorist: Depictions of Aboriginal protests, the Caldedonia reclamation, and Canadian neoliberalization. M. Vardalos, G.K. Letts, H.M. Teixeira, A. Karzai and J. Haig. (Eds.), Engaging Terror: A Critical and Interdisciplinary Approach. 275-285. Boca Raton: Brown Walker Press.

Boykoff, J. (2007). Beyond bullets: The suppression of dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

The Gazette. Cops, Indians blame each other for bloody Ipperwash gun battle. (1995, September 8). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/432902025/E6EDF99C39574D2BPQ/17?accountid=15182

Koring, P. (1995, September 7). Mercredi says Ottawa formenting violence stalled land claims frustrating, chief says. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/ga/default.aspx

Lackey J. (1995, September 9). Locals line up against Indians ‘These guys think they can do what they want’. Toronto Star. Retrieved from https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/ga/default.aspx

Moon, P. (1995, September 8). Land seizure began long story of occupation background. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/ga/default.aspx

van Rijn, N. (1995, September 8). Military base at the heart of land dispute. Toronto Star. Retrieved from https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/ga/default.aspx

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