Ont. poised to take final legislative step in handing over park to First Nation
- Ont. poised to take final legislative step in handing over park to First Nation
2 hours, 21 minutes ago
By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press
TORONTO - More than 14 years after native protester Dudley George was killed by police during a confrontation over disputed land, Ontario is poised to take the final legislative step in relinquishing control of Ipperwash Provincial Park, The Canadian Press has learned.
Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey will introduce a motion Monday that, if approved, will remove the land from the list of provincial parks and convert it to Crown land.
That paves the way for the 40-hectare park along the shores of Lake Huron to be transferred to the federal government, which has the power to add it to the existing reserve or create a new one, said Jeffrey's spokesman Bradley Hammond.
"It paves the way to transfer the land to the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation," he said.
"The hope is that it'll bring some important social and economic benefits to the First Nation there and to the local non-aboriginal communities around Ipperwash."
Dudley's brother, Sam George, who died last year after successfully pushing for a public inquiry into his brother death, would have welcomed the move, said Murray Klippenstein, a longtime lawyer for the George family.
"I think Sam would say, 'Thank you' to the people of Ontario for this step," Klippenstein said.
"It's progress to restoring a sacred written land promise between our peoples from a long time ago. I think he would say, 'This is what honourable relationships between First Nations and other Ontarians are made of."'
The provincial government formalized its longstanding promise to transfer the land to aboriginal hands last May by signing an accord that provided a roadmap for the handover.
The actual transfer of the park along the shores of Lake Huron is still years away, but provincial officials say that once the land becomes part of the reserve, the First Nation will have complete control over its use.
It's still unclear what will happen to a nearby former military base, which sits on reserve land expropriated by the federal government during the Second World War.
The handover was a key recommendation of the public inquiry into the death of George, who was fatally shot by an officer at Ipperwash on Sept. 6, 1995, during a provincial police raid to break up an aboriginal occupation.
Three years ago, Justice Sidney Linden concluded that the federal government's unwillingness to settle aboriginal land claims, the impatience of the then-Conservative Ontario government and the cultural insensitivity of the provincial police all contributed to George's death.
The inquiry also faulted former premier Mike Harris for giving police 24 hours to remove aboriginal protesters from the 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 an unarmed George was shot by a police sniper, Linden concluded, but the premier did not direct police to enter the park or prompt them to conduct the botched raid.
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, he concluded.
The First Nation has long argued the park is part of the original Stoney Point Reserve, an unceded tract of land established in an 1827 treaty but whose history with aboriginal groups goes back thousands of years.
The province has implemented many of the inquiry's recommendations, such as establishing a separate Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs with its own budget and bureaucracy.
But some First Nations leaders were dismayed last month when Premier Dalton McGuinty added the portfolio to Attorney General Chris Bentley's responsibilities - a move some have interpreted as relegating aboriginal affairs to the backburner.
The province also hasn't established its own treaty commission to help settle land claims in Ontario - a recommendation critics say is crucial to improving relations with First Nation communities.
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