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Tensions flare at former Camp Ipperwash

From Original Article by Tyler Kula June 20 2020

A shop was burned down, another damaged, and a firearm appears to have been drawn – and a suspect arrested – in what Kettle and Stony Point First Nation’s chief called a tense and hostile situation reminiscent of the deadly 1995 Ipperwash Crisis.

“When you have post-traumatic stress and somebody touches that point that reignites your stress, reignites the trauma that brings you back to that point, your body physiologically, mentally, is not aware whether that trauma happened today or 25 years ago,” Jason Henry said.

“(Friday), the 1995 button was pressed and people stepped back to that incident in 1995. We were back here again and it was very contentious and it was very dangerous.”

The 56-hectare Ipperwash Provincial Park was the site of a 1995 First Nation occupation that resulted in the death of Dudley George, an unarmed First Nation protester who was shot and killed by a member of the Ontario Provincial Police.

A government inquiry into George’s death was conducted in 2003, and an officer was convicted of criminal negligence causing death, although he served no time in custody.

Around 12:20 p.m. Friday, Henry said he was made aware of something happening at the adjacent former federal Camp Ipperwash – signed back to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in 2016 pending cleanup, after the land was expropriated and 16 families were displaced in 1942.

Henry said he saw one of five cannabis shops on the former camp lands – still under the control of the Department of National Defence and where pushes for clean drinking water and housing infrastructure have so far gone unheeded, he said – on fire.

How the fire started is unclear.

“I observed a large group of angry people,” Henry said. “There was yelling and shouting and disagreeing.”

Henry said he doesn’t know who owns the shops.

Videos from community member Phoebe Bressette show a group of band members mobilizing to “evict” shop operators from the land. Group members in the video say shop operators have no right to be there.

A woman identified as a hereditary chief for the community calls the shop operators “invaders that have come in and are trying to pollute our community before our community has housing, proper drinking water.”

“These guys are encroaching on our land,” the woman identified as Mary Johnson says. “They’re trespassing on our land that we shed tears for, we shed blood for. You guys need to get out and you’ll stay out. No longer.”

Videos from Bressette also show the group exchanging tense words with others at a second shop. Signs are taken down and boards pulled off its deck.

There doesn’t appear to be any physical violence and police are visible on site.

The OPP closed Highway 21 for several hours between Ravenswood Line and Northville Road.

Police on the scene Friday declined to comment. One officer said there was no threat to public safety.

“There were hundreds of police officers here,” Henry said. “There were OPP everywhere.”

He said he spent several hours talking to commanding officers.

“Asking them not to kill any people, not to harm any people, not to shoot anybody,” he said.

“I said ‘I don’t need to remind anybody of the Ipperwash recommendations and how police should deal with Indigenous people because we’re standing in Ipperwash. We’re standing where it happened.’”

Later in the afternoon, he and a member of council met with the group protesting the shops to de-escalate the situation, he said.

A meeting has been set for Wednesday to discuss concerns, he said.

In the interim, the remaining cannabis shops appeared to be closed Saturday, he said.

“My concern was that when tensions are high, no matter what the root cause is, people act out of emotion and not out of common sense,” he said, tying the incident to mounting frustration over COVID-19-related restrictions and recent incidents of police brutality against Black and Indigenous people, including the killing by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

People have felt powerless amid the pandemic and they’re seeking power by seeking an enemy, Henry said.

“That’s what I see happened here is that the community here found an enemy to point their finger at, and the lack of having an enemy in a pandemic,” he said.

Expect the meeting Wednesday to focus on long-standing feuds within the First Nation stemming back to the 1800s, he said, noting there are some who want to separate Kettle Point and Stony Point.

“Because we were put together by somebody else trying to colonize us. … There’s longstanding bad blood and division,” he said, adding the animosity “stems from those types of thoughts and actions being put into our minds through a divide-and-conquer objective.”

Any decisions about separation would need to be made by the full band membership of about 2,500 people, he said.

The Lambton OPP referred questions about the incident to Anishinabek police.

Sgt. Murray Bressette with Anishinabek police declined Saturday to answer questions and said the service would be issuing a press release.

“It was a series of events which brought all the police presence into the area,” he said.

Police early Monday, in a press release, said two structures were destroyed by fire and that Anishinabek police are investigating with help from Lambton OPP.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Anishinabek Police Service Kettle and Stony Point detachment at 519-786-5445, or Crime Stoppers.

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