Ipperwash: the Violent, Indigenous Rebel Terrorists

As previously discussed, the Ipperwash crisis was a fatal Indigenous land claims protest against the Canadian government in September of 1995 (Morden, 2013). Throughout the duration of the protests at Ipperwash Provincial Park, various media outlets covered the events and the proceedings between the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and indigenous dissenters. Focusing on five newspaper articles from September 5th to September 9th, 1995, it will be discussed how indigenous protestors were constructed by the media as dangerous and violent rebel terrorists, as well as the various implications of these representations. In addition, it will be addressed how the media employs the violence, disruption, and amalgam of grievances frames, which work to negatively depict indigenous people and their marginalized voices (Boykoff, 2007a).

Throughout the extensive coverage of the Ipperwash protests, the violence frame is predominately used by various media outlets. Mass media coverage employed this frame through the contextualization of the Ipperwash events as either being violent or as, “[having the] potential [to be] dangerous for everyone” (Canadian Press, 1995, p. A1). The articles portray Ipperwash as a tense conflict between the OPP and a group of twenty-five to forty indigenous protestors (The Gazette, 1995, p. A10). Lajoie (1995) reiterates this violent framework through a particular discourse, highlighting the lawlessness, tensions, and violent actions of the few protestors whom, “shouted insults… smashed the windows on [OPP] vehicles, assault[ed] a police officer” (p. A4). Furthermore, violence is painted as escalating, becoming “completely out of hand,” with reference to the two shootings, one of which resulted in the death of indigenous protestor, Dudley George (The Gazette, 1995, p. A10). Cox also stresses this violence frame within her article, “Chiefs fear ripple effect of violence” (1995, p. 2). Through statements from Chief Blaine Favel, Cox explicitly illustrates to readers how the violence of protestors at Ipperwash is feared to have a “ripple effect” on other frustrated indigenous people (1995, p. 2). Subsequently, it assures the public that this violence will undeniably have a negative influence on future indigenous movements and demonstrations, where even the protestors’ own Chiefs dread this possibility (Cox, 1995, p. 2). This is again reiterated in The Gazette newspaper, where the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations tells reporters that Ipperwash, “has gotten completely out of hand” (1995, p. A10). Here we can see how media space is granted solely to “creditable” indigenous people, such as the Chiefs, elected reserve council, band administrators etc. This narrative works to construct political indigenous figures as the only source of “legitimate” voice and good reasoning in a climate of insecurity, distinguishing them from the “illegitimate” and violent indigenous protestors. In addition, by focusing solely on the reoccurring violence of a select few, the media characterizes all indigenous people as a violent threat to “public safety, security, and good government” (Lajoie, 1995, p. A4). This generalizing narrative works to construct a dichotomy between the violent indigenous “others”, juxtaposed against the responsible, non-indigenous citizens of the surrounding towns (Dhamoon and Abu-Laban, 2009). But really, whose violence is it? The Canadian government has held full control of these indigenous lands for over half a century, denied these people their rights, and ultimately, it was a government official who killed an indigenous man at Ipperwash.

Within the newspaper articles, the disruption frame (Boykoff, 2007a) is also frequently utilized, appearing through a focus on the disruption of local residents, as well as the interruption of public safety. In the news coverage, the occupation of Ipperwash and the “violent” actions of indigenous people are represented as “perpetrating an injustice against innocent, law-abiding citizens and the just state,” as well as public safety (Adese, 2009, p. 276). Here we can see the correlation between the violence frame and the framing of events as “disruption” (Boykoff, 2007a). Through the occupation of Ipperwash, the protests have “totally disrupted this sleepy village of 2,800” (Lackey, 1995, p. A6), where “public safety [is] the primary consideration” and “this matter is potentially dangerous for everyone” (Canadian Press, 1995, p. A1). These statements imply that local residents adhere to the utmost degree of peacefulness and innocence, yet their safety is at risk as a result of the actions of indigenous protestors. This image is simultaneously positioned against and in stark contrast to the false dominant narrative of protestors as dangerous “terrorists,” as illustrated by Ken Williams, a local resident outraged at the dissenters: “All these terrorist activities [should] be confined within the perimeter of the army camp… I want to live in peace” (Lajoie, 1995, p. A4). As exemplified by this personal account, specific voices are granted the authority and space within the media to discuss their perspective of the events. The only voices represented and deemed legitimate are that of non-indigenous people and professionals who are constructed as responsible, law-abiding citizens. As previously mentioned, space is also given sparingly to legitimate, creditable indigenous voices- the Chiefs and elected council. As a result, the media does not provide the space for the perspectives and voices of protesting indigenous people. This consequently discredits their issues and delegitimizes the people, constructing them as the irresponsible, disruptive “other.” It is only through protests and land occupations that indigenous people can make their issues visible and have their voices heard.

In addition to this, we must ask why local residents solely place the blame for their disruption on indigenous protestors, rather then the police. The dissenters, whom exclusively occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park, stayed within its boundaries and away from citizens (The Gazette, 1995, p. A10). In contrast, the OPP were surrounding the outside parameters of the park- on the ground, in the air, and on the water- that of which had the possibility to disturb and disrupt local traffic and residents (Linden, 2007, p. 260). The Canadian Press (1995, p. A1) positioned the OPP as negotiators who “show good faith” in monitoring the violent protestors; they were the political entity that have the authority but had yet to, restore social order and security to Ipperwash. Lackey (1995, p. A6) contrasts this, illustrating how residents were vocal in pressuring the OPP to intervene and take the affirmative action necessary to restore order to Ipperwash. As a result, the media’s utilization of the disruption frame presents a particular image of a negotiating OPP unit who solely “respond to [the] incident,” and the dangerous indigenous protestors who create chaos in the lives of the innocent local residents (The Gazette, 1995, p. A10). Subsequently, the utilization of the disruptive frame and the accompanying reports within the articles work to overlook the fundamental issue at hand- the expropriation of indigenous land and the struggle for the reclamation of their territory and self-determination.

Another frame prevalently employed in the discussion of the events at Ipperwash is the amalgam of grievances frame. This specific framework strategically works to illustrate dissidents as having no true purpose or backbone to their movement (Boykoff, 2007a, p. 236). Throughout the articles, four out of the five authors question the motivations of the protestors and the reasoning behind their occupation of the Park. It is briefly mentioned that the dissenters claim the Park contains sacred burial grounds; the authors outline this as their main motive for the occupation of Ipperwash (Lackey, 1995, p. A6). The authors, however, deny this claim through expert evidence; they explicitly state that a 1972 archaeological study had not found any factual evidence of any sacred burial ground within park boundaries (Canadian Press, 1995, p. A1; Lackey, 1995, p. A6; Lajoie, 1995, p. A4; The Gazette, 1995, p. A10). By validating what is believed to be “expert knowledge,” the media fully discredits protestors and disproves the movement’s objective behind the Park’s “invasion and occupation”- which is to protect the sacred burials and reclaim their rightful lands (Lajoie, 1995, p. A4). Subsequently, Lajoie (1995, p. A4) argues that these indigenous people are uselessly protesting for reasons that do not exist. This framing device creates a dominating narrative that constructs an image of these indigenous people as having an unorganized protesting structure with a lack of centralized cause or reasoning for their dissenting action (Boykoff, 2007a, p. 236). Lajoie continuously reiterates this, portraying to readers that the protestors, “…don’t have a spokesman and they don’t appear to have any agenda” (1995, p. A4). Yet, how is it that an outdated study from 1972 continues to be what is perceived as “truth”? Should not the Government of Ontario re-examine the Park with more updated, advanced technology to ensure accuracy of previous “archeological expert” declarations?

Throughout the newspaper articles, the construction of threat is most definitely racialized, as indigenous people are constructed as rebel or terrorist threats. All authors make reference to the “rebel group” that is controlling the occupation of Ipperwash, perpetrating violence, and disrupting the peace of society, all without a legitimate cause or motive. Lajoie explicitly reiterates this false notion of indigenous people as threatening “rebels” in her article title, “Rebels without a cause” (1995, p. A4). This “rebel Chippewa splinter group” exists in what is normally, a peaceful society composed up of law-abiding citizens (Canadian Press, 1995, p. A1). Subsequently, indigenous resistance is constructed as a threat to the laws of the nation and the safety of law-abiding citizens where indigenous protestors, “… don’t have to abide by the same laws as the rest of us… they can do what they want” (Lackey, 1995, p. A6). Media representations of indigenous protestors as being involved in “terrorist activities,” (Lajoie, 1995, p. A4) declares to readers that this renegade group are the terrorist others who challenge and threaten the lawfulness and safety of Canadians (Adese, 2009, p. 275). As a result, this illustrates the relationship between dominant media discourses about security and the racialized construction of the “internal dangerous [other]” (Dhamoon and Abu-Laban, 2009, p. 163). Consequently, the media serves to construct a climate of fear and terrorism, while simultaneously producing a society characterized by anti-indigenous racism (Adese, 2009, p. 275).

The mass circulation of popular media coverage about the dissent at Ipperwash Provincial Park has numerous implications for indigenous people and the injustices they face. Within these articles, the media lacks the requisite context to these events, failing to investigate the social, political, and historical reasons behind the protesting occupation as, “underlying issues [are] often glossed over” (Boykoff, 2007a, p. 220). As previously discussed, the mobilization of this resistance at Ipperwash Provincial Park in September of 1995 emerged from past historical relations between Stoney Point First Nations people and the Canadian government, over half a century ago. By constructing the burial grounds as the only motive for the indigenous occupation and focusing solely on the viewpoints of local residents, the media coverage consequently draws attention away from the larger problem and reason for the protests- the colonial Canadian government’s long-term expropriation of indigenous lands (Cowan & Lindgren, 2007, p. A6; Morden, 2013, p. 510). As a result, the underlying reasons for the ongoing indigenous frustrations and consequential dissent are completely ignored or oversimplified by mainstream media coverage, as there is no historical context to the events (Boykoff, 2007a).

To exclusively imply that indigenous people are the violent, rebel terrorist threats on Canadian soil, is to completely ignore the socio-historical and political origins of the conflict at Ipperwash and the ongoing troubled, colonial relations between Indigenous people and the Canadian state (Morden, 2013). It is also imperative to recognize that the omission of protestors’ perspectives subsequently marginalizes and delegitimizes their voices. Through the utilization of the violence, disruption, and amalgam of grievances frames, the media works to silence and disregard the many injustices indigenous people across the nation continue to face in the fight for their self-determination. The mainstream media accounts of these events at Ipperwash Provincial Park in September 1995 also illustrate how the media is an extremely powerful tool that frames and forms the public’s negative perceptions and opinions about violence, terrorism, indigeneity, and indigenous dissenters.

Reference List:

Adese, J. (2009). Constructing the Aboriginal Terrorists: Depictions of Aboriginal Protestors, the Caledonia Reclamation, and Canadian Neoliberalization. In M. Vardalos, G.K. Letts, H.M. Teixeira, A. Karzai, and J. Haig (Eds.), Engaging Terror. A Critical and Interdisciplinary Approach (pp. 275-285). Boca Raton: Brown Walker Press.

Boykoff, Jules. (2007a). Mass Media Deprecation. In Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States (pp. 216-247). Oakland: AK Press.

Canadian Press. (1999, September 8). Showdown at Ipperwash: OPP, Natives pour into park. The Hamilton Spectator, p. A1.

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

Cox, W. (1995, September 8). Chief fear ripple effect of violence: [Final Edition]. The Kingston Whig- Standard, p. 2.

Dhamoon, R., and Abu-Laban, Y. (2009). Dangerous (Internal) Foreigners and Nation-Building: The Case of Canada. International Political Science Review, 30, 163-183.

Lackey, J. (1995, September 9). Locals line up against Indians “These guys think they can do what they want”: [Final Edition]. Toronto Star, p. A6.

Lajoie, D. (1995, September 7). Rebels without a cause: [Final Edition]. The Windsor Star, p. A4

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.

The Gazette. (1995, September 5). One killed as police move in at Ipperwash. P. A10.



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