Death Ignites Indian Protests in Canada
UNREST OVER LAND CLAIMS
IPPERWASH BEACH, ONTARIO
THE young Indian operating the backhoe tractor swings the machine around, lowering a huge chunk of concrete into a line with others. Draped across this illegal roadblock is an upside down Canadian flag.
Behind the barricade at Ipperwash Provincial Park, men - some in military fatigues, others with kerchiefs hiding their faces - refuse to comment on their continuing occupation.
But other observers say it is a way to honor Anthony O'Brien (Dudley) George, a Chippewa man shot to death near this spot last Wednesday as police tried to remove him and about 40 other Indians from the park. Two other natives were seriously wounded. Police claim the Indians fired first. Indians say they were unarmed.
Many say the killing, as well as the Gustafsen Lake, B. C. standoff, is a watershed that will radicalize the way the majority of Indians in Canada will view their relations with the government.
"Now that blood has been spilled at Ipperwash, it's going to cause even the moderate chiefs to become more radicalized and outspoken," says Tony Hall, a professor of native studies at the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta. "It will be felt throughout Canada."
George is the first Indian in recent memory to be killed by police in such a land dispute. A confrontation between armed Mohawks and police in Oka, Quebec, in 1990 left one policeman dead. The Oka crisis has since become a rallying cry for Canada's native community in aggressively standing up for itself.
The Ipperwash situation has not yet reached the intensity of Oka. But some say it could if it is not delicately handled. Today scores and possibly hundreds of Indians from across Ontario and other provinces are expected at a morning funeral for the slain man. Police, meanwhile, have set a noon deadline for natives to leave the park.
But Ontario isn't the only area in Canada where there is confrontation and flying bullets.
At Gustafsen Lake, B.C., about 140 miles northeast of Vancouver, 30 heavily armed natives who call themselves Defenders of the Shuswap Nation - remain in a tense two-week standoff with members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Shots have been fired there, too, but nobody has been hurt. Indians there say part of a cattle ranch is sacred land, although other local Indian leaders say the group is merely trespassing.
In both Ipperwash and Gustafsen Lake, the provincial premiers have taken a hard line, choosing not to negotiate, but leaving the matter to police. That stance has aggravated even moderate native elders who are watching Indian youths charge ahead to assert their rights.
George belonged to a militant splinter group of 100 or so Chippewas from the nearby 1,800-member Kettle and Stony Point tribe. George's group was tired of waiting, and in July took control of the neighboring Ipperwash Military base, with the military leaving to avoid an incident.
Youths demand land
Like George's group, many Indians across Canada are tired of waiting endlessly for government and courts to resolve longstanding land claims. They want self-government, and they want their land right away.
"These young people don't see an honest willingness by government to get these issues resolved," says Chief Thomas Bressette of the Kettle and Stony Point tribe. "That's why they're tired of waiting. We're all tired of waiting."
Ovide Mercredi, a moderate national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, an organization that represents tribes across Canada, has tried to negotiate a solution at both Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash. But his views of the two situations are quite distinct.
Clearly frustrated following difficult negotiations between him and the splinter group at Gustafsen Lake, he has been quoted as saying that the splinter group there is involved in a "criminal" action. At Ipperwash, however, he has sharply criticized conservative Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris, for enforcing the law "through the barrel of a gun." Mr. Harris has refused to negotiate with the Indians until they leave the park.
In the Ipperwash case, the park occupation appears to have arisen because of frustration over the failure of the federal government to resolve claims on neighboring land. Occupying the park may have been seen as a way to get the attention of government, analysts say.
"Because they lack a forum for grievances, aboriginals are creating their own forum through these confrontations," says Nahum Kanhai, a professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. "It's a case of unbearable frustration...."
Frustration for the Kettle and Stony Point tribe began in 1942. That year the Canadian government decided to build a military base on 2,100 acres of Indian land next to where the park sits today.
Despite promises to return the land as soon as possible, the government finally agreed to return it last February. A cleanup of unexploded munitions and other debris has been delayed - a point of frustration for Indians.
"I feel like I'm getting dragged around in a circle," Chief Bressette told the Monitor. "We've been talking to the government since World War II. Now it's time for them to do what they promised."