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On Ipperwash anniversary, chiefs call on government to reflect on relations with Indigenous people

Alvin Fiddler appears in a file photo on July 24, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Clarification: On Sept. 6, The Canadian Press reported that a public inquiry into the death of Indigenous protester Dudley George at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995 concluded that then Ontario premier Mike Harris and the federal government were responsible. To clarify: while the inquiry found “no evidence to suggest that either the premier or any official in his government was responsible for Mr. George’s death,” it also found the “premier could have urged patience rather than speed,” and that such decisions “effectively foreclosed the possibility” of finding ways to end the standoff peacefully. The report also found: “The federal government, the provincial government and the OPP must all assume some responsibility for decisions or failures that increased the risk of violence and made a tragic confrontation more likely.” The Canadian Press apologizes for any misunderstanding.

Ontario’s First Nation chiefs are calling on the provincial government to reflect on its relationship with Indigenous people on 25th anniversary of the Ipperwash crisis.

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Acting Ontario Regional Chief of the Chiefs of Ontario, Alvin Fiddler, said in a statement over the weekend that distrust between First Nations and authorities continues to exist as a result of unaddressed inequality that the crisis highlighted.

In particular, Fiddler says the government has not taken seriously the results of the Ipperwash Inquiry — an investigation that was started after protester Dudley George was shot and killed by an Ontario Provincial Police sniper on Sept. 6, 1995.

Read more: 25 years later: Remembering the Ipperwash Crisis and Dudley George

He also called upon non-Indigenous Canadians to learn about Indigenous history and to become educated on demonstrations such as the Ipperwash crisis.

“We must know our own histories, our rights, and so must non-Indigenous people and government,” the statement reads.

“It is difficult to respect what you cannot understand, and it is only through strong relationships, a willingness to learn, and education that we all may truly understand one another.”

The crisis began on Labour Day — Sept. 4, 1995 — after members of the Chippewas Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park in protest of nearby reserve land that was seized by the Canadian government during the Second World War to create a military base.

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READ MORE: Federal government, Ontario First Nation sign $95M settlement over Camp Ipperwash

For two days, protesters and police faced off as authorities attempted to remove the occupiers from the park.

During a confrontation on the final day, members of the OPP’s tactical response unit opened fire on a group of protesters as they attempted to leave the park, killing George in the process.

Sgt. Ken Deane, one of the officers in charge of the sniper team, would later be found guilty of criminal negligence involving death.

Deane did not serve any time in prison, and died in a car accident just weeks before he was set to testify at the Ipperwash Inquiry in 2006.

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In response to Fiddler’s call for action, Greg Rickford, Ontario’s current Minister of Indigenous affairs, said that the provincial government continues to build upon the recommendations laid out by the Ipperwash Inquiry.

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“The Ipperwash Inquiry resulted in a number of recommendations that helped redefine Ontario’s relationship with Indigenous communities,” Rickford said in a statement Saturday.

“Our government is committed to listening to the perspectives of Indigenous peoples and to expanding social and economic opportunities and improving the quality of life for all First Nation, Inuit and Metis people living in Ontario.”