False Promises and Patterns of Deception: A Historical Analysis of Indigenous-Government Relations
Settler Colonial practices involved in the historical dispossession of Canadian Indigenous populations from their traditional territories relied on the forced displacement of many communities. A number of Indigenous Communities were forced to relocate to specific areas designated by the federal government of Canada. They were forced to abandon their spiritual roots and traditional practices directly and intentionally compromising their rights to perform activities that helped to define their faiths and culture.
Prior to the Second World War, residents of the Chippewa indigenous community resided in the Stoney Point reserve that the federal government had given them ‘access’ to. Several years later, they were forced to surrender a portion of the land to the government. Local residents that co-resided in the area pressured the government to facilitate them access to Lake Huron which led to the establishment of the Ipperwash provincial Park which later became a host of a military base. The Chippewa Indigenous community protested against the government’s actions stating that a sacred burial site was present. They demanded that these burial grounds be protected, however, all their demands were ignored, and the park continued to exist over sacred grounds. This systematic failure of the government to respect the rights of the Chippewa Community is a mere reflection of the treatments indigenous communities across the country have to endure. We as the general public are often presented with little to no information regarding current events and concerns expressed by indigenous communities in the news. Although when the headlines surrounding the Chippewa community came to light, they were indeed tainted in a negative fashion. We are then left with the notion that their protests are unsubstantial and are merely a source of social unrest. Both the federal and provincial governments of Canada had little interest in recognizing the existence of these burial grounds or returning the lands to the Chippewa community.
The government had violated constitutional treaty conditions and the Indigenous community’s rights to the land and ignored their entitlement to basic human rights. Adults suffering from the consequences of relocating out of Stony Point reserve are likely still impacted by the intergenerational trauma of residential schools and the discriminatory colonial practices that their families were subjected to. Children of families that were forced to abandon their homes and relocate out of the reserve are also likely to suffer from the impact of intergenerational trauma as well because their parents were forced to experience these tragic circumstances.
A side note: It is important to take into account the trauma experienced by the indigenous communities when we think about the high rates of incarceration and alcohol dependence among the indigenous. More than 30% of inmates in Canadian Federal prisons are Indigenous even though they make up about 5% of the population. Additionally, statistics Canada reported that 36% of off-reserve First Nations are categorized as heavy drinkers. The government of Canada and its inadequate response to the needs of indigenous communities across the country is the sole party to blame.
Although the land was completely under the control of the federal government, the Chippewa community was still clinging on the hope and the possibility that these lands could eventually be returned to the Stoney Point people. The federal government agreed that it will enter negotiations to return the land after the end of the Second World War. However, fifty years passed, and the federal government ignored any attempts to negotiate the return of the land to its respective landowners. The Chippewa community was angry at a government that has no regard to its Indigenous people. As a result, in 1993, the former residents of the Stoney Point Reserve occupied the military ranges of Camp Ipperwash.
The goal of the occupation was to peacefully reclaim the land that was once illegally taken away from them and to encourage the government to open negotiations in taking down the military site and giving it back to its rightful owners. The occupation resulted in a violent confrontation between protesters and the Ontario Provincial Police and claimed the life of Dudley George, a peaceful protester mistaken to have been carrying a gun by one of the police officers.
The Death of Dudley George and the Ipperwash Inquiry (Report)
On the early days of September in 1995, the Chippewa people of Stony Point took matters into their own hands after decades of being ignored by the federal government to protest discriminatory colonial practices and the infringement of their constitutional rights. They figured that being vocal in addressing concerns of their community was not going to produce any change from a government that had continuously refused to hear their stories. Therefore, they chose to take action and occupied the Ipperwash provincial park to reclaim the land that was once in their rightful possession. The Ontario Provincial Police were dispatched to the scene and immediately confronted the protestors who were keen on achieving their goals peacefully.
However, peaceful negotiations were ignored by the Provincial government that had given the police orders to use force, if needed, to remove the protesters. The protest turned violent and many members of the Chippewa Indigenous community were assaulted. The pivotal moment of the protest was the fatal shooting of Dudley George, an unarmed Indigenous protestor by an Ontario Provincial policeman. It was the driving force behind the future agreement that saw the land finally return to the Chippewa community in 2007 after decades of failed protests and desperate attempts to claim the land back.
The death of Dudley George and the broken promises expressed by the government towards the Chippewa community and other indigenous communities reflects an identical government that signed the James Bay Treaty and the consequences that arose resulting out of the signing of the treaty in 1905. The Chippewa people of Stony Point took to the streets, their anger over being constantly discriminated against, their ongoing frustration with the government for not abiding by treaty agreements and their desperate demands to have their land back.
Almost two decades after the confrontation that resulted in the death of Chippewan Dudley George, the final draft of the Ipperwash inquiry report that was launched in 2003 by the government was released to the public. The report came as a result of ongoing pressure from the family of Dudley George demanding that the government inquire behind the events surrounding the Ipperwash crisis. The report exposed crucial factors that highlight racist ideologies and systemic discrimination present in Canadian policing agendas and introduced several recommendations in an attempt of preventing future deaths of Indigenous protestors by Canadian police.
So, where does our government in 2020 stand in its relationship with Indigenous people? In 2015, The newly elected government was vocal in its campaign that it must establish a new relationship with the indigenous community built on respecting their rights and commitment to change the status quo. Promises were made and little to none were followed through. Recent headlines highlighting indigenous communities protesting the construction of a natural gas pipeline that violates their legal rights to the lands is a testament to the government’s failure to uphold their promises despite being framed under the pretense of increased indigenous involvement in the pipeline project. It is important to continue to monitor the construction of the pipeline and the purported involvement of the indigenous community in its planning and execution.