May 31, 2007
Aboriginal leaders from across Canada on Thursday warned federal and provincial politicians to pay attention to the Ipperwash inquiry’s recommendations, saying urgent action is needed to avoid tragedies like Dudley George’s death from occurring again.
The chiefs said more must be done to rectify more than 1,100 outstanding land claims, as well as address aboriginals’ frustrations over rampant poverty and poor resources in many communities.
“What is missing is a clear commitment from the federal government and the provincial government to implement the findings,” said Phil Fontaine, chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Fontaine also said the report from the Ipperwash inquiry showed the need for Canadians to be educated about the long history of land claims “for a greater understanding and respect between our peoples.”
Phil Fontaine, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says Canadians must show “a willingness to listen” to aboriginals’ frustration over land claims, poverty and other plights their communities face.
“Canadians should understand that this is not something that we ever wished upon ourselves or brought on ourselves,” Fontaine said.
Some chiefs have called for a “summer of action” to put pressure on the federal government to resolve the disputes and draw attention to the plight of First Nations communities, which they say goes unseen by the rest of Canadians.
Such protests could easily turn into violent clashes, as has been seen in the 15-month First Nations occupation of a housing development site in the southern Ontario community of Caledonia, said John Beaucage, grand council chief of the Union of Ontario Indians.
“We would rather have discussions across tables, not across barricades,” Beaucage told reporters Thursday.
The anger felt by the communities, compounded with the lack of hope that particularly affects young aboriginals, could boil over this summer, he said.
“They have nothing to lose if they go out and protest,” he said.
“Let’s make sure that we give them something that they could hold onto in the future and let’s make that the starting point.”
John Beaucage, grand council chief of the Union of Ontario Indians, said many aboriginal youths feel “they have nothing to lose.” (CBC)
Report urges permanent land claims agency
George, 38, was killed by a police sniper’s bullet as Ontario Provincial Police moved in on an unarmed First Nations occupation at Ipperwash Provincial Park on the shores of Lake Huron on Sept. 6, 1995.
In his final report, released Thursday, Ipperwash inquiry commissioner Sidney Linden found the government of former Ontario premier Mike Harris, Ottawa and the OPP all bore responsibility for events that led to George’s death.
Linden called for the disputed land to be returned immediately to the Stoney Point First Nation, which he said should also receive compensation. He also recommended Ontario establish a permanent, independent and impartial agency to facilitate and oversee the settling of land and treaty claims.
During question period in the House of Parliament Thursday, Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said he agreed with the commissioner’s findings.
“It has been decades since it should have been returned. I am indeed sorry previous governments haven’t dealt with this,” he said.
But NDP MP Jean Crowder said the report demanded immediate action and Prentice’s comments didn’t go far enough.
“This can’t be an excuse for inaction by this government,” she said. “When can First Nations expect respect? When will they get a fair land-claims system?”
“I can assure the member she can expect major land-claim reforms soon,” Prentice replied.‘A lot of other frustrated people’
Linden’s own words show a sense of urgency surrounding the land claims, said Toronto Star journalist Peter Edwards, who covered the Ipperwash standoff and wrote the book One Dead Indian, about the events surrounding George’s death.
“There was a feeling when you listened to the commissioner that we better get moving, or there will be more Dudley Georges,” Edwards told CBC News Thursday from Forest, Ont., where Linden released his findings.¼br> “This wasn’t an isolated incident. This was a historical byproduct and there are a lot of other frustrated people whose grievances and disputes just aren’t going anywhere.”¼br> The Ipperwash standoff began when about 30 unarmed protesters occupied the park in the summer of 1995. The protesters said it contained a burial ground destroyed when a military camp was built on the land during the Second World War.
David Ramsay, the current Ontario minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, apologized Thursday for George’s death and said his government has created a response team to focus on the inquiry’s recommendations.
The chiefs said they will study Linden’s report and look for ways to collaborate with the provinces and Ottawa to implement its recommendations.