By Myles Zacharias
In early fall 1995, thirty-five masked Ontario Provincial Police officers dressed in black riot gear pounded steel batons against their shields at Ipperwash Provincial Park. They call it “shield chatter,” and it is not intended to represent the heartbeat of the Earth like native drums. Police snipers were spread out around the riot squad, surveying also from the hills beyond the parking lot where this confrontation took place. In all, more than one hundred officers were present at the scene. Across from the police line stood about twenty unarmed First Nations men, women, and children.
During the summer of 1615, Samuel de Champlain paddled a canoe up to the land that would become Ipperwash Provincial Park. Champlain had known the area well for some years, but wanted to learn more about the rich cultures and complex peoples he found there. He mapped a vast amount of territory and wrote about the native way of life, describing a culture that grew and existed over ten-thousand years before anyone knew this land even existed. Although Champlain had earlier become famous for organizing First Nation tribes in battle against the Iroquois, he noted in particular the neutrality of the native people of Kettle Point, where he had arrived that summer.
Without warning or instruction to the protestors, the riot squad’s first charge sent a dozen Natives scrambling over fences and into the bush. A lone mixed breed dog with the group of remaining Natives bravely approached the intimidating line of police. A steel-toed boot kicked the mutt hard and sent limping and yelping. A second spontaneous police charge incited a vicious fight. The Natives did not have guns but instead defended themselves with rocks, poles of different sorts, and sticks. Police officers surrounded one of the men and pummeled him with their steel batons; his heart would later stop beating in an ambulance as he fell into unconsciousness.
Years after Champlain’s initial contact with First Nations in the area, Jesuit visitor Father Paul Le Jeune wrote that this warm and peaceful group of natives communally farmed squash, corn, vegetables, and tobacco and noted that “as regards to intelligence, they were in no way inferior to Europeans.” The Jesuits connected with the Kettle Point Natives’ spiritual belief that a Creator gave the Earth to all people equally. The priests marked the peaceful tendencies of these Native people by calling them “Neutrals.”
In an attempt to save the man being beaten to the brink of death, a bus and a car moved towards the circle of Ontario Police officers. Several officers fired their guns at the bus, wounding the driver but killing a dog inside. The skirmish had become a gunfight, but the only shots fired came from police. One officer took aim at a man standing opposite him named Anthony “Dudley” George and fired a semi-automatic weapon three times. The third bullet entered Dudley’s chest as he fell and killed him. Months later, before a judge in court, an officer who had been standing directly beside the shooter said Dudley was holding a stick and nothing more.
This battle between civilians and police contrasts sharply with the glimpse of Western-European/First Nation interactions that took place nearly 400 years ago and is known today as the blossom of the Ipperwash Crisis. The Crisis’ final days encompass the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park by a group of individuals who understand the land to be their own and the subsequent attempt by authorities to remove the occupants.
If the killing of Dudley George is the full bloom of the Ipperwash Crisis, and the seed was planted at the very first contact between First Nations and Europeans, then the rising stem broke through the soil around 1830 when the driving force of racism was exposed to light. In the Huron Tract Treaty #29, signed in 1827 by Chippewa Indian Chiefs and representatives of the British Crown, four reserves were created and well over two-million acres of traditional Chippewa lands were surrendered on the acceptance of European promises. Over the years, these reserves would be lopped and skimmed by public and private interests. A portion became Ipperwash Provincial Park, while some of the original land became the Kettle and Stoney Point reserves.
Documents signed by the Crown at the time of Huron Tract promised the ancient inhabitants of the land “the sum of one thousand and one hundred pounds of lawful money of Upper Canada in goods at the prices in goods usually paid for the time being for such goods in the city of Montreal, in the Province of Lower Canada; provided always.” After a Chippewa chief signed the document, he delivered words of respect to the Great Spirit, whom he thought offered gifts to his people for his own every year for as long as his land was offered.
The lifestyle of the Chippewa of Southwestern Ontario was one of seasonal cyclical movement between summer fishing waters and winter hunting grounds, with designated stops in between. This conflicted with a Western world philosophy of private property. For three years, the crown honored their agreements while the Chippewa spent most of the year off their newly designated lands. In 1830, the Lieutenant Governor paved the way for dealing with the “problem of making civil the Indian:”
[The Superintendent of Indian Affairs] will explain to the Chiefs that a village will be formed, as soon as possible for their residence, on any convenient spot, which may be thought more advantageous for their habitation than the divided tract now occupied by them, and he will impress upon them the necessity of the change proposed in their present habits and customs, and how greatly they must tend to their comfort and benefit, and that they ought to lose no time in clearing and cultivating their own lands, and making themselves as independent as the settlers are, who gradually close around them, and will soon occupy their hunting grounds.
The population of settlers grew quickly, and the Western-European customs bulldozed forward in their own development in lands that would remain under scrutiny for years to come. The settlers’ printed publications recorded their feelings regarding Natives and the situation in what is now Southwestern Ontario. Members of the business and working classed in the 19th and early 20th century expressed familiar opinions that the Natives were “uncivilized” and counter to progress. Reverend Thomas Hulburt audaciously voiced the implications of his beliefs an1864 issue of the Lambton County Gazetteer and General Business Directory , stating that the Indians of North America must be “disposed of in one of three ways: killed in war or by drink or Christianized by missionaries and thus made useful members of society.” The painful legacy of residential schools and high rate of alcoholism among First Nations would perhaps please Rev. Hulburt, but probably he would no longer say it.
Treaty# 242 further decreased reserve lands in 1885. Signed by John A Macdonald, it promised cash and annual interest paid to the people of Stoney and Kettle Point. The treaty was drafted in response to the theft of trees from Native land by a local mill. Instead of justice, the people were given another promise in exchange for more land.
Current land-claims testimony argues that speculators bribed some band members in 1927 and purchased the land far below its resale value so they could turn a larger profit for themselves. Ten years later, Ontario Province bought the land from a private group to create Ipperwash Provincial Park. Discovery of remains in 1937 supported the well-argued fact the land contained Native burial sites. It was agreed that the site would be fenced off, but the Attorney General’s final report from the Ipperwash Inquiry indicates that it never was.
The flower of the Ipperwash Crisis formed its bud in 1942 when Canada, having declared war on Germany in 1939, suggested building a temporary military base near Stoney Point. Local merchants in a nearby town were in favor of expanded business and banded together to draw the base to them. The Canadian military later formally decided the location was not viable due to concerns over running water, but the town’s business leaders were insistent. The Stoney Point reserve was determined to be prime real estate going to waste on “unproductive” lands. A new site was chosen on reserve lands, but under the Indian Act the government was required to set the proposed military base to a vote within the reserve. Voting rights had not yet been given to First Nations, and Native communities had little if any political influence.
The Canadian government offered the people of Stoney Point $50,000 for 2,211 acres of reserve land—a little over twenty dollars an acre. The people of Stoney Point voted clearly in a 59-13 defeat of the base proposal and their subsequent relocation. Two weeks later, the base was appropriated under the War Measures Act. The band members fighting with the Allied forces, like Dudley George’s cousin, were not able to vote on the proposal but were assured the base was temporary. Dudley George’s father, Reginald Rumsford “Nug” George, was one of those Stoney Pointers uprooted from his home. Reginald’s brother was fighting overseas and heard from his brother by letters what was happening. Bulldozers demolished the houses and buildings were, and the people were relocated to a nearby reserve at Kettle Point reserve. The Stoney Point community was very different from the band inhabiting Kettle Point. Along with the clash of identities, the Stoney Pointers lost their rights to graze cattle, hunt, or gather wood without permission of the Kettle Point community. Before the end of WWII, the base was transitioned from temporary to permanent. Around the same time, more bones were found by the superintendent’s wife and were confirmed as ancient human remains.