Anishinaabe family says northern Ontario town needs to acknowledge 'injustice'
Brenda Cameron says her grandmother's home on Cameron Island was deliberately burned down in the 1960s
A proposed zoning change to an island within the Municipality of Red Lake in northwestern Ontario has led an Anishinaabe family to seek acknowledgement of, what they call, part of Canada's colonial history.
Cameron Island — also known as Howey Island — is a three hectare island in Red Lake. It was where Brenda Cameron's grandmother had a home until, Cameron said, it was deliberately burned to the ground in the 1960s in order to remove her from the property.
"There needs to be a recognition of that and Red Lake needs to be willing to acknowledge that and move in the direction of making that correct in some way," she told CBC News prior to attending a public meeting in the town on Monday where she spoke to the planning committee about the proposed rezoning.
That is disturbing to us-Brenda Cameron
"There were quite a number of houses, what were homes to Anishinaabe people that were burned, destroyed at that time," she said.
The undeveloped island is now privately owned, according to Mark Vermette, Red Lake's chief administrative officer, and the owner wants it rezoned in order to build a seasonal residence. The island has been under its current ownership since the early 1990s, Vermette said.
The fact that Cameron Island could potentially be developed isn't sitting well with Cameron and her family.
"That is disturbing to us because the whole issue of what happened to our grandmother ... and other Aboriginal people in Red Lake has never been addressed," she said.
"Being a time of reconciliation in Canada is a wonderful opportunity for a community like Red Lake who has a long history with Anishinaabe people to begin to address those issues."
'Make it right'
The island has come up for sale in the past, Cameron said, but the family couldn't raise enough money to purchase it.
She added that "in a perfect world," the land would be returned to the family; Cameron said at the very least, she wants to see a recognition that "a wrong, an injustice occurred, not only to our family but to numerous Anishinaabe families."
The family is seeking a "commitment to make it right," she said.
Vermette said members of Red Lake's planning committee listened "very intently" to the presentation on Monday. He added that the alleged burning is not something he personally was aware of.
"Again, you hear different things growing up in the Red Lake area," he said. "For me it was a very informative presentation."
The planning committee is still recommending that the rezoning be approved, Vermette said, but added that the issues raised by Cameron and her family need to be looked in to. Town council is slated to decide whether to approve the rezoning this fall.
Cameron said she wanted to make sure the committee made their recommendation "with the full knowledge of the way that the Cameron family perceives this whole situation."