During World War II, the federal government decided to build a military camp on reserve land occupied by the Stony Point First Nation and located in Ipperwash Provincial Park, Ontario. The government had initially made an offer to the Stony Point First Nation, but they rejected it, as the land was of particular cultural and spiritual significance due to its use as a burial ground. The government eventually expropriated the land under the War Measures Act, and compensated the Stony Point First Nation at $15 an acre. At the time, the government assured the Stony Point First Nation that it would be returned to them. However, the land was not returned in the years following the war, and in 1993, members of the Stony Point First Nation began to occupy the land at what was now referred to as “Camp Ipperwash.”
In order to assert their claim to the land, a group of approximately 30 members of the band, including a number of children, began their occupation of the park on September 4, 1995. They planned to peacefully occupy the land. The Ontario government, however, headed by then-premier Mike Harris, wanted them removed as quickly as possible. On September 6th, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) staged a nighttime raid on the camp. During the raid, an unarmed Ojibwa man named Dudley George was shot to death by an OPP sniper. When relatives attempted to drive him to a hospital for treatment, they were stopped and arrested. George died in the early hours of September 7th.
It took 8 years before a public inquiry into the events leading up to George’s death began. The inquiry lasted from 2003 to 2006, and what it uncovered many considered shocking. Surveillance videotapes obtained by the CBC showed OPP members making racist remarks towards Aboriginal peoples the day before George was shot, and former Attorney General Charles Harnick testified before the inquiry that Mike Harris had stated, “I want the fucking Indians out of the park” only hours before George was shot. The Inquiry concluded that the OPP, the provincial government, and the federal government all bore some responsibility to the event. The Inquiry made further recommendations including, among others, that public education about land claim issues should be prioritized, an impartial body oversee land claims settlements, the OPP create a formal process to consult with Aboriginal organizations in regard to land claims issues, and an Ontario Aboriginal Reconciliation Fund be established by the provincial government. In June 2007, an Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs was established.
One of the key recommendations that resulted from the inquiry was for the Ontario provincial government to relinquish control of Ipperwash Provincial Park to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nations. In December 2007, the government agreed to do so, although at present the land remains to be repatriated.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have criticized the federal and provincial governments for failing to deal with the situation appropriately. Amnesty International, along with political leaders and other individuals believe that the government used unnecessary force in an otherwise peaceful situation. Amnesty has further criticized the police and governments for responding to the situation with force instead of with a political solution that would address the longstanding historical grievances which form the root of the problem.
By Tanisha Salomons
Websites & online resources
This website includes the Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry, here:
Books & journal articles
Beare, Margaret and Tonita Murray, Eds. "The Ipperwash Inquiry: Research on Police Governance, Independence and Accountability." The Canadian Review of Policing Research, 1: 2005. Available online with restricted access: http://crpr.icaap.org/index.php/crpr/article/view/30/27
Edwards, Peter. One Dead Indian: The Premier, the Police, and the Ipperwash Crisis. Toronto: Stoddart, 2001.
Hedican, Edward J. "The Ipperwash Inquiry and the Tragic Death of Dudley George." The Canadian Journal of Native Studies. 28.1 (2008): 159-173.
---- “Aboriginal Policy Issues: Anthropological Perspectives.” Applied Anthropology in Canada: Understanding Aboriginal Issues. Second edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. 143-153.
Lackenbauer, P. Whitney. “Combined Operation: The Appropriation of Stoney Point Reserve and the Creation of Camp Ipperwash.” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, 1.1 (1999): 1-29.
One Dead Indian. Dir. Tim Southam. Sienna Films/Park Ex Pictures production; produced by Jennifer Kawaja, Julia Sereny, Kevin Tierney. Mongrel Media: Thornhill, Ont, 2006. 90 min.
Candian Broadcasting Corporation, “Background of Ipperwash.”
Canadian Press,“Ontario Set to Give Up Ipperwash.”CBC News. 1 March 2010.
Ipperwash Public Inquiry Transcript, November 23, 2005.
Ipperwash Inquiry Transcript, November 28, 2006.
Gillespie, Kerry. “Ipperwash Land Returned to Indians.” In The Star. December 21, 2007.
Ontario, The Ipperwash Inquiry online archive
http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/inquiries/ipperwash/index.htmlpdf printable version