Feds Handling Of Former Army Camp Land Is At The Core Of First Nations Dispute, Chief Says


Barbara George, 83, is wheeled into the former military base at Camp Ipperwash as members of the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation celebrate the ratification of a deal that returns expropriated land to the band in Ipperwash, Ont. on Sunday September 20, 2015. (CRAIG GLOVER, The London Free Press)

By Tyler Kula, Sarnia Observer

An internal rift within Kettle & Stony Point First Nation that resulted in confrontation during symbolic reclamation of the band’s land on Sunday has its origins in the federal government’s very seizure of that land more than 70 years ago, the community’s chief says.

“The government took our land for 70 years and made the internal fight (go) on that long,” said Chief Tom Bressette Sunday, moments after protesters, identifying as from Stoney Point First Nation, tried to deny some band members entry into former army camp lands — appropriated by Canada’s government through the War Measures Act in 1942.

Those lands are being returned through a federal deal ratified five to one by voting band members last Friday.

But some Stoney Pointers oppose the deal, saying it doesn’t return the land to its rightful heirs.

“It’s going to take years” to heal the divide, Bressette said.

The opposition is rooted in the land’s history, starting with the signing of the Huron Tract Treaty in 1827, when Chippewas in the areas of Lake Huron and the St. Clair River ceded 2.1-million acres of land to the British Crown, ostensibly to help settle the area and shore it up against potential American invasion — a fear in the wake of the War of 1812.

The Chippewas retained less than one per cent of their land, which became four area reserves — including Mouth of the River Aux Sable on Lake Huron (Stoney Point), and Kettle Point on Lake Huron, according to the 2007 Ipperwash Inquiry report.

Those two distinct reserves now make up the Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point, forced together physically when Stoney Point land was appropriated for the Second World War effort, despite band opposition — including a vote against the move, the report says.

Ottawa, it says, paid $50,000 for the land, to turn it into the army camp; $8,400 was set aside to move 16 families living there to the Kettle Point reserve.

“Residents from Kettle Point were not anxious to have the Stoney Point people share their limited reserve property,” inquiry commissioner Sidney Linden writes in the report.

In the 1980s, as the land sat unreturned and frictions between the two first nations deepened, Stony Point residents and their descendants established what eventually became known as the Stoney Point Community Association, the report says.

The association, it says, was dedicated to making it known that Stoney Point and Kettle Point were distinct and had different interests. It also sought for recognition from the federal government that the group was “recognized as the legal heirs and negotiating body in any return of Camp Ipperwash.”

In 1993, Stoney Pointers occupied the abandoned camp, and many have remained in the derelict buildings there since.

Lindin, in the eight-year-old report, called for the disputed land to be immediately returned to the Kettle & Stony Point First Nation, along with an apology, cleanup of the land, and appropriate compensation.

Pierre George, brother of Dudley George — killed by police while occupying Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995 — was among those protesting the deal on Sunday. He was injured during a dispute at the army camp’s entrance when his clothing caught fire.

An earlier report incorrectly said George accidentally set himself on fire.

Witnesses say a gas can kicked into a fire set up in protest at the camp’s entrance was somehow knocked back towards George, igniting his shirt — which was subsequently torn off before he was doused with water.

He was still in Sarnia hospital Monday, with burns to his hands and ears, but recovering nicely, said family members there to visit him.

Now, what happens to the former army camp land is up to the community to decide, Bressette said.

“There’s got to be a planning process,” he said.

About $70 million of the government payment is being invested by trustees, while government officials clean up the property: a process expected to take years. About $20 million is earmarked as compensation for all band members, Bressette said.

Stoney Point members have said they don’t agree some of the money should go to Kettle Point members.

-with files from Jennifer O’Brien, London Free Press