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Indigenous demonstration forces closure of the Pinery

OPP says demonstration is about land claim issue that is before the courts

CBC News

November 10, 2017

Parks staff at The Pinery say the park on the shores of Lake Huron is closed. The OPP say the closure is due to a demonstration over an indigenous land claim. (Kate Dubinski/CBC )

A group of indigenous demonstrators has forced the closure of the Pinery — an Ontario park on the shores of Lake Huron — with police saying the action is connected to an ongoing land claim. 

"This all stems from a land claim issue that is now before the courts," OPP Sgt. David Rektor told CBC News. "Right now, we're working toward a resolution and managing the people that are demonstrating."

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Rektor didn't have exact numbers, but said a "handful" of people are taking part in the protest. "At this point, everything is peaceful," he said. 

However when CBC News reporter Kate Dubinski arrived at the park Friday morning, there were no demonstrators at the park entrance. 

The park issued a statement Thursday, saying the park was closed, a decision that was made after "a few individuals" informed the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry of their intention to occupy the park.

Park rangers told campers on Thursday night that they'd have to leave Friday morning, as a precaution. 

Campers were given full refunds and many were headed to McGregor Point, which was accepting Pinery campers. 

Park officials tweeted that the demonstrators claim the park is "rightfully theirs."

There were no demonstrators at the park entrance Friday morning, but the province has closed the park. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

Ontario Parks officials said they would "continue talks with the individuals in an effort to resolve the matter."

Until that resolution happens, the park is closed to the public for camping and day use.

"Public safety remains our first priority and will guide our operation of the park," the statement added.

Monte McNaughton, the MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, called for calm and said he plans to speak with Ontario Natural Resources Minister Kathryn McGarry and Indigenous Relations Minister David Zimmer. 

"Obviously it's important that everybody remains calm until we find out the specifics of what's happening," he said.

McNaughton told CBC he's been told the park will be closed until Nov. 20. 

The park has been the site of land claim protests in the past. It is also not far from Camp Ipperwash, where a land claim demonstration turned deadly in 1995.

The park near Grand Bend boasts about 10 kilometres of sand beach along Lake Huron and 21 square kilometres of forests and rolling dunes.

An Aboriginal family led by demonstrator Maynard T. George has made several attempts to "repossess" Pinery Provincial Park in past years, saying the land belongs to approximately 100 of his great-grandfather's descendants.

In 2004, then Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant told the legislature that George's claim was "an individual grievance" and not a land claim.

Bryant noted that the First Nations in the area — Kettle and Stony Point First Nation — had said that they didn't endorse the grievance and that they have no land claim at the Pinery.

​​The Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation approved the deal with the federal government in 2015 to settle that claim.

With files from The CBC's Andrew Lupton, The Canadian Press
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