Leaders are urging calm on June 29, including Grand Chief Matthew Mukash. June 29 is the day many Aboriginals across Canada will protest the lack of federal concern for Aboriginal issues, including treaties and agreements.
This comes on the heels of the release of the Ipperwash Report May 31. The report finally winds down a mere 12 years after Dudley George became the first Aboriginal in over 100 years to be killed in a land claims protest. While George was shot in 1995 by an OPP officer, named Ken Deanne, a judicial inquiry never even started until November 2003.
Patience is the word of the century when it comes to Aboriginal issues or attempts at justice. Settling land claims is difficult if you ignore what is right and wrong.
If Ipperwash taught us one thing, it is that frustration is a two-way street. In its simplest terms, Aboriginals from the Stoney Point Reserve Band were frustrated that the Canadian Government (via the Department of National Defense) had appropriated their land during the Second World War and were ignoring their own promises to return it.
Ipperwash Park was retaken on September 4, 1995. In two short days frustration levels reached the point where Dudley George was shot and killed.
In the Ipperwash judicial inquiry it was revealed that a lack of understanding of Aboriginal issues and potential solutions contributed to the tragedy. Despite assurances that this was an unarmed protest, police mistakenly claimed Dudley George had a weapon when he was murdered.
The Honourable Sidney B. Linden, Commissioner of the inquiry, pointed out that there were a number of negotiators and experienced personal in the area yet none were used and at no time did the OPP open meaningful talks with the protestors.
One of the problems was the lack of a coherent negotiation response plan. The police did not even have a communications strategy to pass or receive important messages. It also didn’t say how anycommunications would take place. Complicating matters was the fact that the head of the Negotiation Response Team had no experience in Aboriginal issues, culture or protocol.
The report says that, through their inexperience, the office of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris contributed to the violence at Ipperwash park. Attorney General Charles Harnick testified he heard Premier Harris say, “I want the fucking Indians out of the park.”
Other parts of the report say the OPP were directed to remove the protesters within 24 hours. Premier Harris denies using this comment and said at the hearing he considers the statement offensive.
Racial slurs and comments were not only attributed to the premier, but also to officers of the OPP At no time were they reprimanded by superiors for their blunt racism even as it assuredly increased the chances of a conflict.
On the other side, certain statements didn’t help the situation either. One band councilor claimed his vehicle was struck by rocks and bats. As it was passed around the story somehow evolved into one in which a woman was attacked in her car. The band councilor’s statements that he saw AK-47s and other weaponry no doubt inflamed the situation. This was one of many in a series of misunderstanding of motives and reasons that led to George’s death.
The inquiry says it is essential for police forces to receive training in the history and culture of Aboriginals as well as having a relationship or partnership with First Nations police forces so this situation does not happen again.
Let us all hope that police and First Nations alike learn from the painful lessons of Ipperwash and June 29 and other future days of protest pass without another death.
Remember, if you plan to do anything, be careful. After all, whenever a government ends an inquiry or delivers another report they are always ready to do another. Be safe, my friends.