Jan 21/98: Ipperwash plan shocks province


London Free Press
January 21, 1998
Greg Van Moorsel - Free Press Reporter

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

The Ontario government awoke to "surprise" news Tuesday that one of its outdoor jewels -- Ipperwash Provincial Park -- may be part of a deal to end a half-century land dispute with area natives. A top official in the province's Natural Resources Ministry was firing off a letter to a federal counterpart, demanding an explanation, The Free Press was told. Meanwhile, the area's Tory MPP says property owners in the disputed Ipperwash area along Lake Huron should be compensated for their troubles.

Lambton backbencher Marcel Beaubien said property values have fallen amid land-claim disputes, lawsuits and a 1995 native "uprising" near the park, harming local business and residential owners and costing some hefty legal fees. "They're not even being talked about -- they're not even part of the equation" to end the dispute, he said of the property owners, calling that omission "repulsive." Beaubien said "it's about time" the dispute over the former Camp Ipperwash was settled, but said it could leave "forgotten taxpayers." "Canada is certainly a nation of different nationalities, different people," he said. "(But) sometimes I wonder whether the people that pay the taxes are not being somewhat discriminated against...."

The Free Press on Tuesday reported a tentative deal in the offering for the federal government to return the former Camp Ipperwash to Sarnia-area natives, the Kettle and Stony Point band, with negotiators having largely agreed to terms worth $26.3 million. The package isn't yet ready for approval. If the deal being drafted goes through, the former army base would be given back, along with millions of dollars in group benefits and individual compensation. Part of the proposed settlement also calls for Ottawa to try to secure Ipperwash Provincial Park for natives. Documents obtained say Ottawa would "engage" the province in talks "intended to lead to the transfer of Ipperwash Provincial Park to reserve status."

Natural Resources Minister John Snobelen, whose ministry oversees Ontario's parks, was out of the country Tuesday and unavailable for comment. But an aide said it came as a "complete surprise" to learn the park is included in the elements of a proposed deal to end the land dispute. "We had never heard of that," said Peter Hickey, a spokesperson for Snobelen. "Nobody has ever contacted us about the potential of turning over Ipperwash park." Ontario's deputy natural resources minister, Ron Vrancart, was writing Ottawa, "expressing our concern on learning of this through the news media and asking for a full briefing," Hickey added. While "it is not our intention" to hand over the park, Hickey said the province is open to discussing ways to resolve a claim that the park contains a native burial site.

Ipperwash, a popular Lake Huron park, has been closed since late 1995, when a standoff between heavily-armed police and natives ended with a native man gunned down by the OPP outside the park. An OPP officer was convicted of criminal negligence causing death. But there have been repeated calls by Dudley George's family for a public inquiry into the events that culminated in his shooting death.

The OPP park buildup cost taxpayers $2 million. Lynne Boyer, a spokesperson for the federal department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, said the province would ultimately have to be included if any settlement proposal involved the park, because "it's their land." Stoney Point natives, tired of waiting for Ottawa to return the land used for Camp Ipperwash, moved back onto the site in stages beginning in 1993. Others moved in 1995 and the army pulled out. Taken by the federal government under the War Measures Act, the land was to have been returned after the Second World War. It wasn't until 1994 that Ottawa said it would return the site.

The proposed settlement -- which lawyers say isn't completely nailed down -- follows nearly two years of talks between federal and native negotiators. Approval would be required by both the federal cabinet and the native band. But already there are early indications the proposal may not have the agreement of all the natives. Maynard T. George, who led Stoney Pointers onto the military base in 1993, said among his concerns is that compensation and benefits will be flowed through the entire Kettle and Stony Point band, when it's a smaller native group, forced out in 1942, and their survivors who should be entitled.

Kettle Point and Stoney Point were separate reserves before Ottawa's wartime takeover of 880 hectares (2,240 acres) of Stoney Point for the base. Beaubien said there may be "some merit" to including the park in any deal, despite "friction" that might result, noting "the natives are not receptive to having the provincial park there." "It's very difficult to have a provincial park in an area in where...you may not be wanted." Besides area property owners, Beaubien said the province should be compensated for damage done to park buildings from the park's 1995 native occupation.

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