Jordan: If you live in Canada and are politically aware, you might remember the first example that you got of how cruel our government can be to Indigenous people. There’s no shortage of them in our history. Mine was Ipperwash.
Clip: Indigenous protesters in a standoff with armed police officers, trying to take back their land from the military. An unarmed protestor, Dudley George, shot and killed by an OPP officer. It was a pivotal moment in Canadian history, and many of those protestors have stayed on the land since then.
Jordan: I was 15 years old, so just old enough to be learning about how current events didn’t necessarily match the things that I learned in school. And look, it doesn’t matter whether you’re older or younger than me, there’s a standoff over land and a government crack down for your generation too. The things that we tell ourselves about what’s happening might change, but what’s actually happening doesn’t really. Indigenous people are standing up for the land that belongs to them, or they’re standing up to protect the land that feeds and nurtures us all. And someone makes a decision in the police and the government in the military, and they end up trying to remove the land defenders. Sometimes violently. At Ipperwash, for the first time an indigenous person was killed. So that’s what happened in the area known as Stony Point where Ipperwash is located. And the people who fought for that land are still on it today, a quarter of a century later. And you can still, if you go there, see an example of what happens after the government doesn’t get its way. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. And this is The Big Story. Cristina Howorun is a reporter at CityNews who will take us back to Stony Point. Hello Cristina.
Cristina: Hi Jordan.
Jordan: Can you first just tell me about that area? You know, where is it and why is it important?
Cristina: Stony Point is about 40 kilometres outside of Sarnia. It’s on the shores of Lake Huron and it’s actually part of the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. Why it is exceptionally important, and most people or many people may remember the Ipperwash crisis of 1995. And that is when an unarmed Indigenous man named Anthony Dudley George was shot by police. We had a band member, or a council member from the First Nation that was actually beaten by police to near death that day. And a teenager that was shot by police as well. They were part of a group of what is now being called land defenders. They were trying to reclaim both the Ipperwash Provincial Park, but also, and perhaps more importantly or arguably, Stony Point. And that was essentially a nine kilometre, a nine square kilometre tract of land that was expropriated the Canadian government in 1942. They actually forced all of the families that lived on Stony Point to relocate to another part of the reserve about nine kilometres away to Kettle Point. And they said we’re doing this under the War Measures Act. We’re taking it over. We need this for training, but don’t worry, we’re going to give it back to you. Well, 50 years later, they still hadn’t moved. And so a group of individuals from within the community, people that had grown up there, descendants of people that had grown up there, fought to reclaim that land, which they eventually did. But Stony Point is, it’s a very unique part of Canadian history.
Jordan: For those of us who are a little too young to remember it as it was happening– as I mentioned in the intro to this, this is kind of the first, the first land defence that I remember, since I paid attention to the news– what happened specifically once the land defenders got on to the land and made their intentions clear?
Cristina: You know what Jordan, it’s funny that you say that because this is one of the very first stories that I remember tracking as, you know, a young teenager or preteen even at the time, and following along with. So what actually happened was in the early 1990s, there were some rumblings around Kettle and Stony Point, that they were going to attempt to retake that land. It was being used as Camp Ipperwash, it was training camp for cadets. It was primarily used in the summer, but there was some work being done through the rest of the year. And in 1993 a small group of, again, land defenders, they hopped the fence essentially. And they co-existed primarily peacefully with the Canadian army that was stationed there and they stayed there in shacks and in tents, in trailers that were donated to them. And they stayed there for two years. And then there was very little happening, at least in the mindsets of the people that had reclaimed the land. And so in 1995, through some level of force, they actually took back the camp. The army moved out and the Indigenous land defenders reclaimed their land. Then the Labour Day weekend of 1995 a small group of these land offenders moved down towards Lake Huron to Ipperwash Provincial Park. Now that is where, and it’s since been confirmed, there was a burial ground, an ancestral burial ground. And they reclaimed the park. The OPP got word of this. They came down, you saw that all of the hotels between Grand Bend, which is a popular tourist destination, they’re all booked up with OPP officers. You had people coming in from London and Sarnia, and in the surrounding areas coming in to essentially tackle what was no more than 25 to 30 protestors that were at the park. There was eventually an inquiry where a lot of this information can be found, but on the late nights of September 6th, or late hours of September 6th, there were some rumblings going on. An OPP Sergeant that was part of the True Team, so he was actually a sniper, shot Dudley George. He was unarmed, it was confirmed that he was unarmed. And he killed him. And over the next couple of days you saw massive protests all across Ontario and in Canada, as people worked to reclaim that land. Now, eventually that land was reclaimed. But only last month did the province officially hand back the provincial park to the people of Kettle and Stony Point. And while since 1993 to 1995, Stony Point, that area, has been inhabited by people that are descendants of the land defenders, have moved there within the last 10, 15, 20 years, it is still essentially under military control and it’s going to remain that way for another 20 to 25 years. And that’s how long it’s expected to take the department of national defence to clean up the mess that they left there.
Jordan: When you say clean up the mess, what do you mean? What’s it like there right now?
Cristina: If you drive along the side of the road, it’s highway 21, it’s near Sarnia. It’s essentially right around Grand Bend. You’ll see that there are signs all over the place saying danger, hidden explosives below, stay out, no trespassing. And those signs were put up by the department of national defence, because this was a training camp, but you have to think of it in this sense, it was a military training camp. They weren’t just doing, you know, parades around. They were actually practicing grenade launching and they were using explosives. So since 2015, over 100 explosives have been located on the land. And 85 of the 116 in total that have been found are classified as catastrophic. And that means that they are likely to kill somebody.
Cristina: There are a lot of hidden dangers. And they’re not even located in one specific area, because again, this is training camp. So people are shooting things and, you know, if you’re learning how to launch a grenade or a throw a grenade, you’re not going to be perfect on your first couple of attempts. So they’re finding them in areas that they didn’t expect to find, them like along the beaches and in sand dunes and along even roadways. So it’s going to take a long time to get rid of all of those unexploded ordinances and clean up the environmental damage that was done, in terms of diesel oil that may have leaked, and you know, they did have garages there for fixing military vehicles. So what type of impact has that left there as well?
Jordan: Well, if this was mostly resolved, you know, in 1995, why are we still talking about cleaning this stuff up 25 years later?
Cristina: That is a very good question. So while it was somewhat resolved in 1995, we didn’t have the inquiry into everything that happened at Ipperwash until the mid 2000s. And even then, a final settlement agreement between the Crown and the First Nation of Kettle and Stony Point wasn’t reached until 2016. So what’s important to note here is that a lot of First Nations have different issues with, you know, the Department of Indigenous Sffairs, or perhaps they’re dealing with, you know, somebody from the Ministry of Energy or Northern Affairs, but the Chippewa of Kettle and Stony Point also have to deal with DND. And that’s something that’s very unique when it comes to Crown-First Nation relations. So a final settlement agreement wasn’t reached until 2016 and the cleanup efforts didn’t start in earnest until about then. So what you have now are a couple dozen of structures that are being lived in by 60 or so members of the community, and these are old army barracks and they don’t have drinkable water, or they’re filled with asbestos, and they’ve got roofs that are leaking right onto their floor, and nobody’s fixing it. They have, you know, this is not a remote community. Again, it’s probably only a 20 minute drive to Sarnia. And yet the people that live at Stony Point, they don’t have water that they can trust. And so they have to use one single tap at the front of the Gates in order to get water, and they fill up these little jugs of water and they try to use that throughout the week. It’s not the type of conditions we would expect to see an in developed nation.
Jordan: Tell me about the people who do live there. Who are they? And what’s their life like?
Cristina: Many of the people that do live there were part of the original group of land defenders. They’ve been there for 25 years. So for many of them, this has become their only way of life that they know. There are a few that have moved in within the last 15, 20 years. I know that one of the women that I spoke with was Lacey George. Her husband is one of the original land defenders. He hopped the fence with his mother and with Dudley George back in 1993. And he was just a teenager then. So he’s lived there forever and they just, they don’t want to leave because there is such a profound connection to the land. Because while this little built up army camp place is– it’s akin to a shantytown. It’s something that you wouldn’t expect to see here. It’s, you know, dilapidated buildings that are crumbling in front of you. It’s littered with old, unusable trucks and trailers that people have gone through for parts, or that they’ve purchased in hopes of one day being able to fix up, or that I’ve just been dumped there. So it’s just not something that we’re used to seeing in Canada, at least. And if you look beyond all of that, you see these beautiful inland lakes and these wonderful lush forests and green land and sand dunes that I’ve never seen before anywhere in Canada. And the beach is just beautiful. And some of the prettiest sunsets. And you could see that there’s this profound connection to the land. And there’s a real fear with a lot of the people that live there that if they leave, they won’t be able to come back to it. Because again, the government said in 1942, we’ll give this land back once the war’s done, and that didn’t happen. They had to take it back.
Jordan: And so just to be clear, cause I want to make sure that kind of I understand the nuances of the land claims and ownership. Until very recently, this land that was littered with trucks and abandoned vehicles and stuff, was the military’s responsibility?
Cristina: Yes, and technically it is still the military is responsibility. The military has control of the land. Although the ownership of the land does belong to the First Nation, they will only give up their control once the land is clean. And this is something that’s in the best interest of the First Nation, because they didn’t want to take back land that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up. And it wasn’t their mess to have to clean up. So they’re only taking back the land parcel by parcel, as it’s been cleared and cleaned. At this point, nothing has been handed back to the First Nation, although there are a few hectares that have been cleaned.
Jordan: So what happens next? It’s been 25 years now since the original, crisis. These folks are still on the land and they still lack the basic services that, you know, we’d come to expect from a town a few miles down the road. Who’s helping?
Cristina: Well, DND will not take any responsibility for the army barracks anymore. So they provide a small amount of funds to the First Nation for basic maintenance. And that’s, you know, clearing the grass and, you know, shovelling the roads or clearing the roads in the winter time. But because they believe that, you know, these buildings that people are living in, and these are former, you know, a former mess hall or a former fire hall, or just barracks. Because they were not designed for full time family residential use, they’ve sort of wiped their hands clean of it. And they’ve left it up to these other individuals to clear up themselves. So either the people that are living there, many of whom who are still struggling with PTSD, trauma and mental health issues, either generational trauma or PTSD, just from, you know, the Ipperwash crisis in those years themselves, they’ve left that up to them to clean up for themselves or to the First Nation to fund. Now I know that I’ve spoken with the former chief, he’s a long time chief, and he said that they had these buildings examined. That they’re not safe to be living in, that they are contaminated, that they do have asbestos that they’ve got lead paint that they should not be lived in, especially not full time. And the new chief there, he was elected a couple of years ago now, he says that he’s making inroads, but essentially, these buildings are dilapidated. I’ve seen the black mold that’s growing on floors, I’ve seen the leaks in the roofs that are, you know, as big as my head. And the residents there just can’t keep up with it.
Jordan: If this is a dispute between the First Nation and the military, is there anybody in either the Ontario government or the federal government that is taking any responsibility here?
Cristina: I would argue that the department of national defence, their position is that they are, you know, they’re paying for the electricity that’s going in there, that they are cleaning up the land, that they’re cleaning up their own messes, and that they do give money to the First Nation for maintenance and security. Because access to this part of the land is strictly monitored and limited, there is somebody working at the Gatehouse that limits access. But ultimately it’s up to the residents and the First Nation. So I know that recently the First Nation has announced that they’re going to be helping with roofs, and installing roofs or new roofs on some people’s homes. But, you know, in the words of one of the individuals that I spent a lot of time with this summer, they really do feel like the forgotten ones. That the nation itself isn’t helping them as much as they feel that they should be, and that the Canadian government and the Canadian population has absolutely forgotten about them.
Jordan: How unique is this situation? Because on the one hand, you know, I remember it really clearly, as I mentioned, one of the first big news events, certainly domestic news events I remember. And one of the first times I realized just how the government can treat Indigenous people. How unique is this 25 years later, compared to so many of the other land defences that we’ve seen that have been met with force by the government?
Cristina: Well, I would argue that this is a very unique situation on several levels. First off, Dudley George was the first Indigenous man to be shot and killed in a land dispute or land reclamation effort. So right there that makes this a totally different situation. We’ve had an inquiry into this. But also the use of the War Measures Act. So the War Measures Act being used as a relocation tool, this wasn’t something that– this land was not surrendered to the Crown, as we’ve seen in different treaties or, you know, this isn’t a debate about whether or not this part of the land was surrendered. It was taken. It was flat out taken under the War Measures Act in 1942, people were picked up, some homes were actually moved on the back of trucks to Kettle Point, and they just said, here’s where you live now. So that makes it, I don’t know of any other situation exactly like this in Canada, where people’s homes were quite literally picked up and moved in the middle of the night and said, this is where you live now. You don’t have a choice in the matter. So that makes it very unique. We know that lack of clean drinkable water is a problem, unfortunately, in many of our First Nations, all across Canada. But Kettle and Stony Point, I mean, Kettle Point, they have clean water. They, I was there for an announcement over this summer where they’re talking about they’re finally going to get this super high speed internet. The people that live, you know, nine kilometres down the road don’t have drinkable water. They don’t have internet, they don’t have cable, they don’t have water. So it’s almost like a tale of two cities when you come into this reserve, because although they are community and they work really hard and there’s been a lot of efforts for them to reconnect as a community, one side of the fence, essentially, has all of the things that we’ve come accustomed to in Canada and other developed nations, whereas the people that live behind the barbed wire on Stony Point, the people that climbed the fence and that have sacrificed a lot of their own lives and, you know, arguably their children’s to live there, don’t have those same luxuries, or even the same necessities, the same basic necessities. So this is a very unique situation in Canada and it’s something that I think deserves much more attention than perhaps it’s been paid in the last 25 years.
Jordan: Cristina, thanks for shedding some light on this 25 years later.
Cristina: Thank you for the opportunity.
Jordan: That was The Big Story. There are more big stories at thebigstorypodcast.ca. There are more tweets from us on Twitter @thebigstoryFPN. We will always read your emails, the address is email@example.com. And of course, we love ratings and reviews. We love it when you subscribe for free, we love it when you tell your friends. They can find us on any podcast player they like, Apple or Google or Stitcher or Spotify and dozens of others. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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