Ipperwash sits on the shores of Lake Huron, just down the road from Grand Bend and Port Franks and the Pinery, places that when the weather turns warm swell with trendy cottagers and beach bunnies, summer drunks and sand-castle-builders.
In the mid-1990s, a group of Chippewa occupied land at Ipperwash from which their people had been evacuated more than fifty years earlier. As the numbers grew in 1995, provincial police took action, and a standoff ensued. Initially, it was peaceful. The police apparently planned to do very little beyond maintaining order. Many believed that the Natives would leave once the weather turned cold. Then, on the night of September 5, in an abrupt change of plans, police moved in to evacuate the Chippewa. Shots were fired. A Native man, 38-year-old Dudley George, died, and his death has cast a shadow over Native land claims in Canada.
In 1928, beachfront property belonging to the Stoney Point Chippewa was sold. Natives, years later, alleged that government officials bribed and coerced residents into supporting the sale of this land, at less than market value. In 1942, the Canadian government evacuated Chippewa who lived on the remainder of Stoney Point and Kettle Point land in order to set up Camp Ipperwash, a temporary training facility for the army. Cottages were bulldozed; new buildings were erected. After World War II ended, the government refused to return the land. The Chippewa were paid roughly $50,000.00 in compensation at the time of the evacuation. In 1981, they received an additional 2.5 million dollars. The government agreed that the land would be returned when the military no longer needed it. They also conceded hunting and fishing rights to the Chippewa, restricted to regular seasons. The 90s saw a fair bit of Native activism in the area, including demonstrations at Camp Ipperwash and the distribution of pamphlets. Some non-Native residents have also complained of less innocent actions, claiming acts of harassment and intimidation. Overall, however, the situation remained relatively quiet—or, at least, out of the mainstream news-- until the spring of 1993, when confrontations occurred between military personnel and Natives. By the winter of the following year, the base was empty, and the government had broached the subject of finally returning the land, which Natives claim contains a burial ground.
Several Natives moved into the abandoned camp in 1993. Apparently the ongoing police surveillance, while not welcome, was initially unobtrusive.
In September of 1995, additional activists moved onto adjacent land. Some constructed barricades.
On September 6, the confrontation became heated. Members of the Ontario Provincial Police moved in to apprehend the protestors. Officers claim that some of the Natives had weapons, although no guns have ever been found.
Dudley George, a Native activist, was carrying a stick, a branch from a tree.
O.P.P. Sergeant Kenneth Deane fired.
Anthony "Dudley" George
That George carried the stick was well-known. One of the Native protestors describes him as a "trickster," but harmless. She recalls that he would use the branch to trip up friends or lightly swat girls' behinds.
Kenneth Deane claims he fired because he believed George was pointing a rifle at police. Another officer, Sergeant George Hebblethwaite, testified that even that late in the evening he could clearly see that George was carrying a stick, and he did not perceive him as a threat. A third officer testified to seeing a rifle—- though not in George’s hands—- and claimed that police had been attacked with a Molotov cocktail. The police notes from that night do not corroborate these claims. Whatever the reason, Deane shot and George fell.
No ambulance came, and Dudley George was taken to the hospital in a private car. The driver of the car and two others were arrested when they arrived at the hospital, and this caused additional delay before hospital staff could see and treat George.
Two other Natives were wounded by gunfire that night. One was beaten by police.
Deane resigned from the O.P.P. in 2002. He later was convicted of criminal negligence causing death, and sentenced to perform community service.
On February 23, 2006, he died in an automobile accident near Prescott, Ontario.
The death of Dudley George—- the only Native killed over a land dispute in twentieth-century Canada—- brought attention to the Ipperwash situation. Many things brought to light did not reflect favourably on government and police actions.
Some O.P.P. officers made commemorative mugs and t-shirts, including ones which featured a horizontal white feather—a Native symbol for a dead warrior. Videotape taken at Ipperwash in 1995 revealed two officers exchanging racist remarks about the protestors, one day before the killing of George.
More significantly, several members of the provincial government met to discuss the matter of Ipperwash just hours before the police moved to clear the protestors. Inevitably, claims were made that they had ordered the move against the activists. Such direct interference with police procedures by a provincial government would be irregular, and then-premier Mike Harris denied the allegations. Harris's own government, however, refused to call an inquiry into Ipperwash.
In 2003, Harris’s government was defeated. The new government called an inquiry into the death of Dudley George. It began hearing evidence in 2004, and delivered its final report in May, 2007.
Former provincial attorney-general Charles Harnick shocked the inquiry by claiming that Harris declared at the meeting, "I want the fucking Indians out of the park." The deputy solicitor general attributes the comment to Minister of Natural Resources Chris Hodgson. Harris and Hodgson both deny the allegation, and others present claim that these words were never spoken. Harris’s solicitor general Bob Runciman states that the allegation is false, but has been repeated so many times in the years since the death of Dudley George that it "replaces memory" and become fact in some people’s minds (CBC Timeline). The report of the inquiry concluded that Harris had, in fact, made the remark. Although the report criticized the premiere for his approach to the situation, the inquiry found no evidence that he had interfered with police procedure.
Harris, for his part, has testified that, given the opportunity, he would not change his actions.
The Future of Ipperwash
In 1998, the provincial government agreed to return the land, and paid additional compensation. The Natives lost a claim, however, for the stretch of beachfront property sold in '28. In 2003, the George family received a $100,00.00 payment and agreed to drop an ongoing lawsuit.
In the winter of 2006, the CBC broadcast One Dead Indian, a drama based on the death of Dudley George.
On May 28, 2009, the provincial government at last signed the agreement that would see the land returned to Native control.
A group of Native people have remained on the land to this day.
Affadavit to the Ipperwash Inquiry. June 23/04
Paul Barnsley. "Dudley can now rest." Windspeaker September 2006. http://www.ammsa.com/windspeaker/articles/2006/wind-sep-06-2.html
Julie Carl. "Natives lose Ipperwash beach claim." London Free PressMay 20, 1998.
"CBC News In Depth: Ipperwash." CBC News Online. May 10, 2005. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/ipperwash/
"The Ipperwash Inquiry." http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/ipperwash/inquiry.html
"The Ipperwash Inquiry: History." http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/ipperwash/history.html
"Inquiry Testimony: A Timeline." http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/ipperwash/timeline.html
"Racist comments by police caught on videotape." http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2004/01/20/ipperwash040120.html
Peter Edgar. "Indian seemed to have stick, not a gun, trial told." The Toronto Star Thursday, April 10, 1997.
"Ipperwash." Peace and Conflict. Historica. http://www.histori.ca/peace/page.do?pageID=344
Sidney B. Linden. The Ipperwash Inquiry. http://www.ipperwashinquiry.ca/
Wanda Maracle. Interviews, June and September, 2006.
John Miner. "The Land Ipperwash Inquiry: Back natives' stand, judge urged." The London Free Press August 22, 2006.