'The living conditions are deplorable': Underground dangers slowing transfer of Ipperwash lands
LONDON, ONT. -- Twenty-five years after the Ipperwash Crisis, and four years after a settlement with Canada, residents of the former Camp Ipperwash continue to live in deplorable conditions awaiting the return of their traditional lands.
“Camp Ipperwash is likely still 20 or more years away from being returned to the First Nation,” explains Kettle and Stony Point Chief Jason Henry.
The Ipperwash Final Settlement Agreement (2016) includes $95 million in damages and a requirement that the Department of National Defence restore the lands of the former military base.
Large signs on parts of the property warn of unexploded ordinances lurking just below the surface.
The methodical removal is being performed by experts hired by the federal government.
About 37 hectares of land has been cleared of explosives since 2014.
Completion isn’t expected for another 25 years to ensure the work is done safely and respects archeological discoveries.
In a statement to CTV News, the Department of National Defence writes, “The transfer of the land will take place in parcels, as areas are cleared.”
There were 116 unexploded ordinances, including mortars and grenades, discovered by 2019.
Since 2014, the federal government has spent $16.9 million on the work.
The First Nation is pressing the Canadian government to put money forward on a more regular basis and extend longer contracts to expedite the process.
In the meantime, about 50 residents continue to live in deteriorating military barracks first inhabited during the Ipperwash Crisis in 1995.
“The living conditions are deplorable,” says Henry. “They live in the barracks built with asbestos, lead paint, leaking roofs, no potable water in the units.”
The military buildings that have served as homes for 25 years must also be removed before the land transfer can begin.
A first step will see the installation of basic services to support construction of ‘Phase One’ housing that Henry hopes will break ground in 2022.
“The land defenders that are there, are the most resilient people that I know,” says the chief.
Henry adds a much smaller part of the area, the former Ipperwash Provincial Park, has entered the final stage of the federal government’s Addition to Reserves process.
In the meantime the community waits.
“They’ve been there, they’ve lived uncomfortable, and they are willing to live uncomfortable for as long as it takes to ensure the land is returned to the rightful inhabitants.”