(Thunder Bay, ON, September 4, 2020) “Good day everyone, I acknowledge you on your traditional territories and nations where you reside and hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy. This year, so far, has been unprecedented in its challenges to all of our communities due to the pandemic. While COVID-19 has consumed much of our lives it remains important to try and make space to remember moments from our histories that have brought us to where we are now. The anniversary of the resistance and tragedy that happened at what is currently known as “Ontario’s Ipperwash Provincial Park” is one of those such days.
On this day (September 6th) in 1995, Anthony “Dudley” George, an unarmed protestor, was killed by an Ontario Provincial Police sniper on expropriated land at Ipperwash. He and members of his community had planned to peacefully protest an undue legacy of unkept promises. Stoney Point Indian Band (now known as the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation) was expropriated to reserve land by the federal government so that Ipperwash could be used as a military camp in 1942. They were promised that once it was no longer needed, the land would be returned to them. Ancestral burial grounds were destroyed when the camp was built and 18 families were removed from the land.
After repeated requests from the First Nation for the land to be returned, members of the Stoney Point Indian Band occupied the camp in 1993 and in 1995 as well as the nearby Ipperwash Provincial Park. They were standing up for their rights and title, and were a significant part of a long history of First Nations people fighting for their sovereignty and resisting unjust treatment and the imposition of colonialism. It has been 25 years since then, and it is remarkable to see how much has changed- and what hasn’t.
Dudley George and the events which took place at Ipperwash forever altered the relationship between First Nations people and Ontario.The years which followed immediately after September 1995 tested Ontario and Canada’s processes of accountability. They highlighted broken relationships and also motivated many to push for long-awaited, meaningful changes in Ontario. It took eight years of advocacy and activism from First Nations and other groups to receive an inquiry into the death of Dudley George and the events which took place on and around September 6, 1995. Dudley’s brother Sam, was a key force in making this inquiry happen. He tirelessly advocated to find the truth about what happened to his brother until his death in 2009.
The subsequent Ipperwash Inquiry was meant to act as a roadmap “for new relationships between Aboriginal peoples and the Ontario Government based on respect and reconciliation”. In total, the Final Report made 100 recommendations in the spirit of these key themes:
- policing of Aboriginal protests and occupations
- relationships among federal, provincial and First Nations governments
- the land claims process
- sharing the benefits of resource development
- consultation concerning Aboriginal and treaty rights
- public awareness and education about Aboriginal peoples
As a result, we have seen the creation of the Ontario Ministry of Indigenous Affairs; the New Relationship Fund to improve First Nations’ abilities to consult on land and resource projects; and an agreed return of Ipperwash Provincial Park to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nations.
These are significant and positive advances, but even after 25 years, there is still so much further to go. For example, while we have created a ministry of Indigenous Affairs, it was never meant to be amalgamated with other ministries such as Mines, Energy, and Northern Development as it is now. Another important advancement yet to be made: one of the key recommendations from the Inquiry was to create a Treaty Commission of Ontario, this has still yet to be seen, or any permanent tripartite body in Ontario to deal with land claims. Many First Nations across the province are still fighting decades long land-claim disputes and assertions of treaty rights and title. The desire to make the necessary changes is there- we still need the timing, resources and political will.
This anniversary should remind us of the work that still must be done to honour Dudley George and the many First Nations people like him who have dedicated their lives to combating racism and colonialism and seeking a just future for all of us. To commemorate the 25th anniversary we must continue, as Grand Council Chief Glen Hare said, to share the story of Ipperwash and other such events through public education.
We must know our own histories, our rights- and so must non-Indigenous people and government. It is difficult to respect what you cannot understand, and it is only through strong relationships, a willingness to learn, and education that we all may truly understand one another. In this spirit, the Chief’s of Ontario will be sharing information about Ipperwash and related events throughout the week.
Further, we will continue, as always, to pursue advocacy with the provincial and federal governments to ensure that First Nations in Ontario have their rights respected, voices heard, and are able to thrive. We also wish to voice our support for Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in their commemorative ceremony taking place this week and wish them peace and healing.
Finally, we call the current Ontario government to action. We call on them to meaningfully look at the 100 recommendations as not a checklist, but as the basis for good relationships which must be continually revisited and acted upon. In the years since Ipperwash, little has fundamentally changed. Distrust still exists as a result of inequality, and inadequate processes and implementation of recommendations. I hope that on this Anniversary the Ontario government listens to where First Nations say we need to go, and follow those directions. As First Nations evolve, so too will the actions Ontario must take to maintain good relations and prevent instances such as those which happened at Ipperwash from happening again.
Hopefully, 25 years from now, the future that Dudley George fought and died for will be realized.”
A/Ontario Regional Chief Alvin Fiddler
The Chiefs of Ontario is a political forum and a secretariat for collective decision making, action, and advocacy for the 133 First Nation communities located within the boundaries of the province of Ontario, Canada. Follow Chiefs of Ontario on Facebook or Twitter @ChiefsOfOntario
Chiefs of Ontario