THE IPPERWASH CRISIS: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE CANADIAN STATE, SOVEREIGNTY, AND INDIGENOUS DISSENT

In September 1995, indigenous residents of Stoney Point First Nation occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park to protest the extensive appropriation of Stoney Point Reserve by the federal government and their subsequent dispossession (The Ipperwash Inquiry, 2007: 16). Using Ipperwash as a case study of contemporary colonialism, this critical analysis will examine how “Canada [continues to be] driven by imperialism and engages in [extensive] colonial action against indigenous people whose self-determination and land claims challenge Canadian authority, hegemony, [and sovereignty]” (Barker, 2009: 325). Knowledge of the historical context of Stoney Point, as well as the relationship between indigenous people and the government, is vital to understanding the land claims protest and occupation of Ipperwash by indigenous residents (The Ipperwash Inquiry, 2007: 15).

The occupation of Ipperwash exemplifies indigenous peoples’ struggle against the Canadian state’s sovereignty and their ongoing fight for their own “political, economic, and cultural independence” (Gordon, 2011: 66). This is evident throughout the historical decisions of the Canadian government and the resulting conflicts with indigenous people regarding the lands of Stoney Point First Nation. In 1942 through the implementation of the War Measures Act, the Canadian colonial state seized the indigenous lands and forcibly removed its residents from their homes (Morden, 2013: 510). This was done for the development of a military base (Morden, 2013) that would help build an empire at home (Gordon, 2011: 67). Following the war, the lands provided to be of economic value as a tourist destination along the shores of Lake Huron; this led to the subsequent development and operation of Ipperwash Provincial Park (Morden, 2013). Despite the government’s refusal to surrender the lands following World War II, indigenous people made several attempts over the subsequent decades to negotiate the rightful return of Stoney Point (The Ipperwash Inquiry, 2007: 16, 49). The continued colonization of Ipperwash by the Canadian state was done to maintain and support the state’s sovereign power (Neocleous, 2003). As defined by Neocleous, sovereignty is the control of space and defined territory, both of which are vital to the recognition and power of a state (2003: 100). With this, multiple sovereignties are not permitted; one state must maintain dominant power over defined territory (Neocleous, 2003: 100).

On September 4th, 1995, indigenous people entered Ipperwash Provincial Park with the intention to assert control over the land through its occupation, declare their self-determination (The Ipperwash Inquiry, 2007: 193), and to protest against the hegemonic power of the Canadian state that continued to forcibly subjugate and displace indigenous people (Gordon, 2011: 67). In response, the state deployed the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to patrol the parameters of the park (The Ipperwash Inquiry, 2007: 208) with the intention of provoking fear amoung indigenous people and asserting sovereign power and control over the colonized territory (Neocleous, 2003: 102). With sovereignty, land territory is occupied and maintained through terror, force, and violence (Neocleous, 2003: 100). The use of force produces and secures the territorial interests of the settler state and continues to perpetuate the violence and reproduce colonial relations of earlier periods (Pasternak et al., 2013:66). Subsequently, the killing of protestor Dudley George by an OPP officer illustrates how the police used violence to remove the “rebel terrorists” that “threatened the state system as a whole” (Neocleaous, 2003: 103) in order to maintain the state’s hegemonic power. As a result, the protests and conflicts between indigenous protesters and police at Ipperwash illustrate the dialectic relationship between indigenous protestors and the hegemonic power of the Canadian ssovereign state. The violence employed by the police evidently exemplifies how the state relies upon the monopolization of indigenous territory and force for legitimacy (Baker, 2009: 327), while as the occupation of Ipperwash by indigenous peoples’ served as “[a] direct threat to the existing political, [capitalist] authority [of the state]” (Starr et al., 2011: 10).

Throughout the duration of the reclamation at Ipperwash Provincial Park, the constant surveillance of protesters by the OPP and the labelling of protestors as criminals reproduced the distinct dialectic of power and resistance, domination and subordination, as well as inclusion and exclusion, that of which aimed to suppress indigenous people and maintain state supremacy (Starr et al., 2011: 5). When indigenous people challenged the dominant social order of the sovereign Canadian state (Neocleous, 2003) through the occupation of Ipperwash, protestors became subject to social control and repression through, “… the process of labeling and treating dissenters as deviants” (Starr et al., 2011: 8-9). In order to gain control, the Canadian state and other institutions of society worked to create this false depiction of indigenous people as “domestic terrorists” to support the imperatives of dominion and colonization (Adese, 2009: 279). As previously discussed, this was evident in the news coverage of the events, as the police, media culture and its ideologies were able to “manufacture consent” and “reproduce politically expedient ‘illusions’” in the public (Starr et al., 2011: 6). The constant image of “violent terrorists” were employed as a social control strategy to produce normative consensus from the public, establish support of the sovereign state and its policing powers, as well as manufacture doubt about the protestors (Starr et al., 2011: 6).

As explained by Adese (2009), “indigenous peoples are represented as terrorist “others” who challenge the tenets of “secure” land ownership, threatening the lawfulness and safety of Canadians” (275). This relates back to the notion of sovereignty, as the Canadian state “characterized indigenous resistance movements as forms of terrorism” (Adese, 2009: 275) and national security threats, in order to maintain its sovereign power over indigenous territory. This works to exclude indigenous people from the membership within the territorial space and any claims to it (Neocleous, 2003: 99). As a result, the false depictions and racialized identities of the protestors had become “targeted for elimination through the use of force” by the police (Starr et al., 2011: 10) as the “use of physical force in controlling a territory is the key to the state” and its power (Neocleous, 2003: 102). As Dhamoon and Abu-Laban explain, through the process of racialization, “specific subjects are constructed as outside, [foreign to] the nation-state” which determines who does not belong (2009: 167). As a result, the nation-state becomes premised on a racialized distinction between the racialized, foreign indigenous “other” that poses a threat, and the “self” that belongs to the nation (2009: 167). Through the false image of indigenous people as the threatening “other” during the protests at Ipperwash, this strategic tool worked to back up the state’s implementation of violent counter responses (Adese, 2009: 275). Adese illustrates that governmental legislation enacted by the state gives heightened powers to the police, subsequently narrowing the rights of indigenous people involved in legitimate dissent and protest (2009: 277-78). Through the arms of the media and political institutions, the state system uses terror to effect a political rationalization and justification of state violence that reproduces colonization (Neocleous, 2003: 107).

The “[colonial], hegemonic reality of contemporary Canada” (Barker, 2009: 326) is evident in the lands claims case at Ipperwash Provincial Park. Undeniably, there is a dynamic complexity of systemic colonialism, indigenous resistance, and hegemonic power employed at the conflicts at Ipperwash (Starr et al., 2011: 5). It is important to critically analyze the social, historical, and racial context of indigenous struggles in Canada in order to understand the protests at Ipperwash, as well as the subsequent criminalization of indigenous dissent. At Ipperwash, indigenous protestors not only protested for the reclamation of their lands but they also worked to de-center the state’s sovereignty and dominant social order (Starr et al., 2011: 9), and to raise political consciousness regarding indigenous people’s struggle with Canada’s present-day colonial and capitalist project (Gordon, 2011: 66). Through this, the occupation of Ipperwash challenged the sovereign Canadian state and its hegemonic power over the indigenous land that continue to serve as the foundation to this imperialist and capitalist nation (Baker, 2009). The repression of indigenous self-determination and the colonization of indigenous lands by the Canadian government is not simply a historical past, as colonial relations continue to reproduce in contemporary Canada, supporting the nation and its colonial interests (Gordon, 2011: 68). Those who resist, challenge, or divert from the normative colonial relations of the Canadian sovereign state continued to be repressed for their legitimate forms of dissent (Adese, 2009: 278).

Reference List:

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

Barker, Adam J. (2009). The Contemporary Reality of Canadian Imperialism: Settler Colonialism and the Hybrid Colonial State. American Indian Quarterly, 33(3), 325-351.

Dhamoon, Rita and Yasmeen Abu-Laban. (2009). Dangerous (Internal) Foreigners and Nation- Building: The Case of Canada. International Political Science Review 30: 163-83.

Gordon, Todd. (2011). Empire at Home. In Imperialist Canada (pp. 66-133). Winnipeg:  Arbeiter Ring Publishing.

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

Neocleous, Mark. (2003). The Home of the State. In Imagining the State (pp. 98-124). Berkshire: Open University Press.

Pasternak, Shiri, Sue Collis and Tia Dafnos. (2012). Criminalization at Tyendinaga: securing Canada’s Colonial Property Regime through Specific Land Claims. Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 28(1): 65-81.

Starr, Armory, Luis Fernandez and Christian Scholl. (2011). “ What is going on? In Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era (pp. 1-18). New York: New York University Press.

The Honourable Sidney B. Linden, Comissioner. (2007). The Ipperwash Inquiry. Retrieved from: http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/inquiries/ipperwash/report/vol_1/pdf/E_Vol_1_Full.pdf

 

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