The Ipperwash Crisis: Colonial Relations, Sovereignty and State Violence

After indigenous residents of the Stoney Point First Nation occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park, the state sought to violently remove these individuals from this territory. This led to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) engaging in violent confrontations with these indigenous protesters, as they were pressured into removing them by the Ontario government. Therefore, it is vital to analyze why state violence was directed towards these individuals during the Ipperwash Crisis. This would entail an analysis into how the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park was a threat to state sovereignty and provoked a crisis in hegemony, which then justified the use of violence by the state to reproduce colonial relations.

To comprehend why violence by the state was enacted towards the indigenous protesters during the Ipperwash Crisis, it is important to first discuss sovereignty. In his work, Neocleous discusses how sovereignty comprises of space and that control of a territory by the state is necessary for sovereignty (Neocleous, 2003, p. 100). He further explains that state violence is essential for sovereignty as violence is used by the state to both control and ultimately establish borders around that territory (Neocleous, 2003, p. 102). From his analysis, it is crucial to note that violence by the state is required to create and maintain a spatial social order. Thus, the formation of Canadian sovereignty should be analyzed, as this would reveal how the Canadian state sought to control its territory by directing violence towards indigenous peoples. In his work, Gordon argues that the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their territory was fundamental for the building of a capitalist economy in Canada during the nineteenth century (Gordon, 2011, p. 68). He argues that since the accumulation of capital needs the implementation of wage-labour relations, strategies of dispossession alongside the criminalization of indigenous culture was used to try to create an indigenous working class that was reliant on wages for subsistence (Gordon, 2011, p. 75-76). This led to the Canadian state using military violence to displace indigenous peoples from their land to create this colonial capitalist social order (Gordon, 2011, p. 69). From this information, it is quite apparent that the violent displacement of indigenous peoples was justified by the state to establish its sovereignty over this territory and produce a social system based on property relations and the accumulation of capital. Thus, the state sought to develop a colonial capitalist spatial order within Canada through the removal of the indigenous population from their territory.

Since the Canadian state secured territory for the operation of capitalist social relations, the Ipperwash Crisis was an eventual consequence of this process. As reported in the Ipperwash Inquiry, the state invoked the War Measures Act in 1942 to displace members of the Stoney Point First Nation after they refused to sell or lease their land for the building of a military base (The Ipperwash Inquiry, 2007, p. 6-7). Clearly, this demonstrates that since the indigenous population chose to not engage in capitalist social relations by selling their land, the state used the War Measures Act to obtain and control the use of this territory.

Through an acknowledgement of how the dispossession of these individuals was an act of sovereignty, it is possible to understand why members of the Stoney Point First Nation decided to occupy Ipperwash Provincial Park. In his work, Gordon highlights how the history between the Canadian state and indigenous peoples is not a simple relationship of colonial domination but also a history of struggle and resistance towards colonial policies (Gordon, 2011, 76). This dialectic relationship is quite evident as the dispossession of the Stoney Point First Nation residents through the War Measures Act in 1942 led to many failed attempts to reclaim the land through legal mechanisms. However, due to several unsuccessful attempts to have the land legally returned to them, it resulted in the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park by the descendents of the original displaced Stoney Point First Nation members several decades later. Thus, it is critical to see how there is a dialectic relationship between indigenous peoples and the state, as policies of dispossession can provoke indigenous resistance either instantly, or in cases like the Ipperwash Crisis, many years after the original dispossession.

Moreover, since the relationship between indigenous peoples and the state can be characterized as dialectic, it is crucial to examine both how and why indigenous resistance would incite a response by the state. This means that it is necessary to analyze how the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park sparked a crisis in hegemony which the state attempted to correct through coercive policing. As explained by Hall and his colleagues, hegemony is established when the interests of the ruling class are purported as the interests for the general population through the state (Hall, et al., 1978, p. 201). The state uses the law to reproduce capitalist social relations by punishing members of the working class, which in turn manufactures consent for these social relations as the general working class population learns to accept these social relations (Hall et al., 1978, p. 202-203). They therefore define a crisis in hegemony as a moment when the state’s political leadership and cultural authority are effectively challenged and the state is no longer able to sustain a relationship of class domination (Hall et al., 1978, p. 217). From this analysis, it is clear that the state is necessary for the maintenance of capitalist social relations. However, this definition should be expanded to incorporate how the Canadian state must also constantly reproduce colonial social relations. Undoubtedly, the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park created a crisis in hegemony as the indigenous protesters challenged the authority of the state and sought to expose how the displacement of indigenous peoples from this territory was a form of colonial domination. This could be highlighted in the Ipperwash Inquiry, as it details how the state, under the guidance of Ontario Premier Mike Harris, did not want to acknowledge the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park as an issue of indigenous sovereignty and constituted it as an illegal occupation (The Ipperwash Inquiry, 2007, p. 39). By refusing to see the Ipperwash Crisis as a response to colonial oppression, the state was in conflict with the protesters in regards to its cultural authority to define the cause of this occupation. Exposing the history of dispossession could then threaten the state’s legitimacy over this territory. Thus, since these protesters challenged the sovereignty of the state by seeking to expose the history of colonial dominance in Canada, the state was forced to respond and restore hegemonic social relations.

While a crisis in hegemony would explain why the state would respond, it is still pertinent to examine why the state enacted violence towards these protesters. According to Hall and his colleagues, during a crisis in hegemony, the state becomes more coercive with repressive mechanisms, like the legal system (Hall et al., 1978, 217). In addition to this fact, Neocleous discusses how a key aspect of sovereignty is that a state asserts absolute authority by having no other political rivals within its territories (Neocleous, 2003, p. 98). It is therefore not surprising to see how the state would use the law to violently reinforce hegemonic colonial social relations. For example, in the Ipperwash Inquiry report, it mentions that Premier Harris placed pressure on the OPP to remove the protesters from the park (The Ipperwash Inquiry, 2007, p. 43-44). From this example, it is quite clear that the state needed to restore colonial social relations and its sovereignty by removing these political challengers from this territory. Furthermore, Neocleous argues that when the state establishes its sovereignty, the state has a monopoly over the means of violence; thus, violence by the state is configured as legitimate while violence by non-state actors is considered illegitimate (Neocleous, 2003, p. 102). As described in the Ipperwash Inquiry report, miscommunication about the potential weapons that the protesters had led the OPP to firmly believe that violent confrontations would occur, despite the fact that the protesters did not actually have any weapons (The Ipperwash Inquiry, 2007, p. 55-57). With a monopoly over the means of violence, the state, through the OPP, was able to reconfigure the claims of these protesters as illegitimate, especially since the indigenous protesters were constructed as dangerous and violent. In turn, the violence enacted by the OPP towards these protesters could be seen as legitimate, since the OPP would be seen as protecting the sovereignty of the state during a crisis in hegemony. Therefore, state violence was used during the Ipperwash Crisis in response to the indigenous protesters as an attempt to restore its legitimacy over this territory.

From this analysis, it is apparent that the Ipperwash Crisis was an outcome of a dialectic relationship between the state and the indigenous population, specifically members of the Stoney Point First Nation. With the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park, there was a crisis in hegemony with a challenge to state sovereignty over this territory. This legitimated state violence towards these protesters to restore the state’s sovereignty over this territory. However, while the occupation and attempted reclamation of Ipperwash Provincial Park ended in violence, it should be noted that the Ipperwash Crisis clearly demonstrates that there is a dialectical relationship between the Canadian state and indigenous peoples as resistance to colonial policies is possible. As it was indicated in a previous blog post, members of the Stoney Point First Nation were able to successfully regain this territory from the state. Thus, while violence through legal mechanisms may be the state’s response to a challenge to its sovereignty, since there is a dialectical relationship established, indigenous resistance can effectively challenge colonial dominance and state sovereignty.

Reference List:

Gordon, T. (2011). Empire at home from Imperialist Canada (p. 66-133). Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing.

Hall, S. et al. (1978). Crime, law and the state from Policing the crisis: Mugging, the state, and law and order (p. 181-217). London: MacMillan.

Ipperwash Inquiry (2007). Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry, The Honourable Sidney B. Linden, Commissioner. Toronto, ON: Publications Ontario.

Neocleous, M. (2003). The Home of the State from Imagining the state (p. 98-124). Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education.



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