Aboriginal leaders urge action on Ipperwash inquiry findings

Aboriginal leaders from across Canada warned that federal and provincial politicians must act immediately to avoid tragedies like Dudley George's death from occurring again.

Aboriginal leaders from across Canada on Thursday warned federal and provincial politicians topay attention tothe Ipperwash inquiry's recommendations, saying urgent action is needed to avoidtragedies like Dudley George's death from occurring again.

The chiefs said more must be done to rectify more than 1,100 outstanding land claims, as well as address aboriginals' frustrations over rampant poverty and poor resources in many communities.

Phil Fontaine, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says Canadians must show "a willingness to listen" to aboriginals' frustration over land claims, poverty and other plights their communities face. ((CBC))
"What is missing is a clear commitment from the federal government and the provincial government to implement the findings," said Phil Fontaine, chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Fontaine also said the report from the Ipperwash inquiry showed the need for Canadianstobe educated about the long historyof land claims"for a greater understanding and respect between our peoples."

"Canadians should understand that this is not something that we ever wished upon ourselves or brought on ourselves," Fontaine said.

Some chiefs have called for a "summer of action" to put pressure on the federal government to resolve the disputes and draw attention to the plight of First Nations communities, which they say goes unseen by the rest of Canadians.

Such protests could easily turn into violent clashes, as has been seen in the15-month First Nationsoccupation of a housing developmentsitein thesouthern Ontario community of Caledonia, said John Beaucage, grand council chief of the Union of Ontario Indians.

John Beaucage, grand council chief of the Union of Ontario Indians, said many aboriginal youths feel "they have nothing to lose." ((CBC))
"We would rather have discussions across tables, not across barricades," Beaucage told reporters Thursday.

The anger felt by the communities, compounded withthe lack of hope that particularly affects young aboriginals, could boil over this summer, he said.

"They have nothing to lose if they go out and protest," he said.

"Let's make sure that we give them something that they could hold onto in the future and let's make that the starting point."

Report urges permanent land claims agency

George, 38, was killed by a police sniper's bullet as Ontario Provincial Police moved in on an unarmedFirst Nations occupation atIpperwash ProvincialParkon the shores of Lake Huron on Sept. 6, 1995.

In his final report, released Thursday, Ipperwash inquiry commissioner Sidney Linden found thegovernment of former Ontario premier Mike Harris, Ottawa and the OPP all bore responsibility for events that led to George's death.

Linden called for the disputed land to be returned immediately to the Stoney Point First Nation, which he said should also receivecompensation. He also recommended Ontarioestablish a permanent, independent and impartial agency to facilitate and oversee the settling of land and treaty claims.

Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice says the government will spend part of the summer addressing the backlog of land claim files. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))
During question period in the House of ParliamentThursday, Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said he agreed with the commissioner's findings.

"It has been decades since it should have been returned. I am indeed sorry previous governments haven't dealt with this," he said.

But NDP MP Jean Crowder saidthe report demandedimmediate action and Prentice's comments didn't go far enough.

"This can't be an excuse for inaction by this government," she said. "When can First Nations expect respect? When will they get a fair land-claims system?"

"I can assure the member she can expect major land-claim reforms soon," Prentice replied.

'A lot of other frustrated people'

Linden's own words showa sense of urgency surrounding the land claims, said Toronto Star journalist Peter Edwards, who covered the Ipperwash standoff and wrote the book One Dead Indian, about the events surrounding George's death.

"There was a feeling when you listened to the commissioner that we better get moving, or there will be more Dudley Georges," Edwards told CBC News Thursday from Forest, Ont., where Linden released his findings.

"This wasn't an isolated incident. This was a historical byproduct andthere are a lot of other frustrated people whose grievances and disputes just aren't going anywhere."

The Ipperwash standoff began when about 30 unarmed protesters occupied the park in the summer of 1995. The protesters said it contained a burial ground destroyed when a military camp was built on the land during theSecond WorldWar.

David Ramsay, the currentOntario minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, apologized Thursday for George's deathand said his government has created a response team to focus on the inquiry's recommendations.

The chiefs said they will study Linden's report and look for ways to collaborate withthe provincesand Ottawa to implement its recommendations.