Revisiting the site of the Ipperwash Crisis 25 years later
IPPERWASH, ONT. -- A quarter century after the Ipperwash Crisis, the tragic events of Labour Day weekend 1995 still echo across Canada.
“The morning after Dudley was killed our community was closed. It was quite a grim feeling,” recalls Kettle and Stony Point First Nation Chief Jason Henry.
Henry was 15 years old when an Ontario Provincial Police sniper killed community member Dudley George at a blockade outside the former Ipperwash Provincial Park.
The roots of the land dispute stretch back to 1942, when the Canadian government expropriated the Stony Point First Nation to build a military base on Lake Huron near Forest, Ont.
The federal government promised to return the land after the Second World War.
In the summer of 1995, however, the military continued to operate Camp Ipperwash.
Soldiers withdrew from the base after a group of Indigenous protestors took back the property - including 38-year-old Dudley George.
On Labour Day weekend about 35 community members proceeded to close access to the adjacent Ipperwash Provincial Park.
The OPP presence grew as the provincial government exerted pressure on police to act.
On the night of Sept. 6, Ken Deane, an OPP sniper, fatally shot an unarmed Dudley George during a skirmish near the barricade.
The morning afterwards, Henry went to a roadblock where he experienced first-hand the racism that stoked earlier tensions.
“Shortly after an OPP officer pulled up and put his Crown Victoria sideways on the road,” recalls Henry. “He stepped out and had an automatic rifle and he pointed it at me and said, ‘You’re nothing but a worthless wagon burner. I should just pull the trigger.’”
Today, about 50 members of the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation still live in the deteriorating military barracks.
CTV News was granted access to the former provincial park where George was shot.
Just metres from the location of the shooting, a stone monument reads: Dudley George, who made the ultimate sacrifice September 6, 1995.
In 2004, Sam George described his brother’s death to CTV News before the start of the provincial inquest.
“He stood his ground there, unfortunately he paid the ultimate price for standing up and saying what he believed in,” he said.
Henry believes the emergence of social media and Indigenous news outlets over the past 25 years is a critical development for First Nations.
He says the story of an unarmed Indigenous man killed by police would be told differently today.
“I think that Black Lives Matter has brought a lot of attention to the inequalities in many things.”
In 2007, the inquest into the Ipperwash Crisis published a long list of recommendations about policing and relations with First Nations.
Political Scientist Andrew Sancton says a key recommendation has not been implemented as intended.
Sancton says Commissioner Sidney B. Linden advised provincial politicians to draft public policies establishing the parameters for police action during similar standoffs.
He laments that the failure has contributed to more recent land disputes including in Caledonia, Ont.
“A very common response from politicians is we don’t get involved with these questions,” says Sancton. “It’s up to police to decide what to do, but that’s not what Linden recommended.”
Henry says the slow process of rebuilding trust continues.
“In 1995, you were not willing to listen, and we weren’t ready to talk. So 25 years has brought us to the point where we can talk about our history.”
A history that now includes the Ipperwash Crisis and the killing of Dudley George.
An archeological survey has confirmed the presence of an indigenous burial ground on the former provincial park - just as Stony Point residents including Dudley George asserted in 1995.