Neglect of land claims, impatience, cultural insensitivity led to Ipperwash death
----- Original Message -----
From: RUSSELL DIABO
Sent: Thursday, May 31, 2007 10:27 PM
Subject: Neglect of land claims, impatience, cultural insensitivity led to Ipperwash death
Friday � June 1 � 2007
Neglect of land claims, impatience, cultural insensitivity led to Ipperwash death
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Two aboriginal protesters man a barricade near the entrance to Ipperwash Provincial Park, near Ipperwash Beach, Ont., on Sept. 7, 1995. (CPimages '95)
FOREST, Ont. (CP) - A scathing inquiry report has found Ottawa's neglect of aboriginal land claims, an impatient provincial government and the cultural insensitivity of police all contributed to the death of a native protester who has become a symbol for aboriginal demands for justice in Canada ever since.
Dudley George, gunned down by a police sniper in 1995 for refusing to end an occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park where he said his ancestors were buried, emerged from among the findings Thursday as a man of conviction, his brother said.
"My brother's legacy is that he stood up for what he believed in; he stood up for himself; he stood up for his community; he stood up for his land," Sam George told a bank of television cameras waiting to capture his reaction to the judicial inquiry into the shooting 12 years ago of his 38-year-old activist brother.
Justice Sidney Linden released his 1,500-page report after hearing from 140 witnesses over 25 months with a warning that the issues at the heart of the Ipperwash occupation colour to this day the many land claim disputes that remain unresolved across Canada.
"This inexcusable delay and long neglect, by successive federal governments, are at the heart of the Ipperwash story," he said.
"Understanding Ipperwash can help us to understand how to prevent aboriginal occupations and protests in the first place, or how to reduce the risk of violence if they do occur. Aboriginal occupation and protests are not inevitable, nor are they inevitably violent. The provincial government and other institutions must redouble their efforts to build successful, peaceful relations with the aboriginal peoples in Ontario so we can all live peacefully and productively."
Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said George has come to represent the ongoing struggle for land and decent living conditions faced by Aboriginals across the country.
"We absolutely owe a lot to Dudley George. He will remain forever in our minds whenever we talk about land claims," Fontaine said in an interview from Calgary. "If there is anything that ought to cause the Federal Government and Provincial government to do the right thing when it comes to the resolution of claims, this is it."
In a statement issued earlier Thursday, Fontaine said Linden's report proves it is futile to use force against people convinced they are protecting their rights.
"Clearly, the inquiry has found that nothing is to be gained by applying force to situations where people legitimately feel their rights are at issue. We must implement the alternatives - education, new government structures and respectful negotiations - the peaceful, constructive strategies that include meaningful consultation and engagement of our people in order to avert these situations in the future."
Other Aboriginal leaders said the youth of their community need reassurance that they can actively try to improve their lives without fear of violent reprisals.
"There are a lot of young people out there who have nothing to lose," said Grand Council Chief John Beaucage with the Anishinabek Nation. "They've got no hope for the future. They're poor. They have poor housing, poor water in their communities. They have nothing to lose if they go out and protest. Let's make sure we give them something they can hold on to in the future."
Since the 1995 shooting of George, there have been other high profile flareups by aboriginals in Canada, including another involving a land claim in Ontario at a housing complex in the town of Caledonia that has been marked by several violent clashes with police spanning 15 months.
There have been warnings from more aboriginal groups that Canada is hurtling toward a summer of protest as frustrations over some 800 outstanding land claims boil over.
Chief Terrence Nelson, of the Roseau River First Nation south of Winnipeg, has threatened a lengthy blockade of CN rail lines unless the federal government makes an effort to resolve the land claims by June 29, the planned national day of aboriginal dissent.
Linden concluded federal and provincial governments have to deal with land claims fairly - and swiftly - if they want to avoid future confrontations, while the police have to show greater cultural sensitivity and recognize aboriginal protesters are "different than a soccer crowd."
Linden faulted then Ontario premier Mike Harris for giving police 24 hours to remove aboriginal protesters from Ipperwash park, just days after they occupied it claiming it was the site of a sacred burial ground.
Harris uttered a racial slur at a meeting hours before George was shot, Linden concluded, but the premier did not direct police to enter the park or prompt them to conduct the botched raid.
"After carefully assessing the evidence, it is my view that Michael Harris made the statement 'I want the f**king Indians out of the park'," Linden wrote. "I agree with premier Harris's characterization of the statement . . . as racist."
The government's "imperative for speed" and its reluctance to examine the legitimacy of the aboriginal claim made it virtually impossible for either side to negotiate an end to the dispute, Linden concluded.
Provincial police also made negotiation unlikely because of their insensitivity, poor communication and unwillingness to involve aboriginal mediators, he said.
"Cultural insensitivity and racism on the part of some of the OPP officers involved were evident both before and after Dudley George's death," Linden said.
Mark Sandler, lawyer for the provincial police, said changes have already been adopted, but aboriginal occupations put police in an untenable situation.
"We cannot negotiate the resolution of land claims," Sandler said. "We have no ability to do that so we welcome any initiatives . . . that will increase the timeliness and expeditious resolution of land claims. We don't want to be in the position where these tensions arise."
Linden said the Ontario government should establish a Treaty Commission to help settle land claims and appoint a minister of aboriginal affairs with a separate budget and bureaucracy.
Premier Dalton McGuinty said the government will work with aboriginal leaders to review the report with a view to carrying out the recommendations. He also apologized to the George family on behalf of the province, something Harris's lawyer says the former Tory premier will not do.
"Earlier today, I talked with Sam George and I want to now say publicly what I said to him privately - on behalf of the people of Ontario, we apologize for the events that led to the loss of life," McGuinty told the legislature. "We deeply regret the death of Dudley George."
David Ramsay, Ontario's minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, said the Linden report is a testament to Dudley George's memory and vowed to " honour his life as we move forward."
Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said George's death was the result of decades of neglect of land claims by previous federal governments. He said his government is working on "major reforms to the land claims system" to return the contested land to George's band and to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
"I am sorry that previous governments haven't moved and transferred this land back. I intend to move expeditiously," Prentice said in Ottawa.
"We need to do this in an orderly way, but let there be no doubt, this military base will be returned to the Kettle and Stony Point people. I intend to make that happen."
Sam George, who fought for more than a decade for the inquiry, said the Linden report lays out a guide for future land disputes, although it comes too late for his brother.
" I believe he did right but, for that, he paid the ultimate price," George said of Dudley. "I think the most important recommendation in this report is that we all try to work together."
� The Canadian Press 2007
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