London·Opinion

Dudley George's death at 'Aazhoodena' galvanized my community

It's been 25 years since Anthony Dudley George made the supreme sacrifice while taking a stand for the right to return home. Much has changed in the name of "reconciliation" since he was shot and killed by an OPP officer while occupying an ancestral burial site near the shores of Lake Huron.

Ottawa appropriated the First Nation territory in 1942 promising to return it after the war

A memorial plaque for Dudley George is at the site where he was killed near Camp Ipperwash. He and others were occupying the land near Lake Huron on Sept. 6 1995 to protest Stoney Point First Nation territory taken by the Federal Government in 1942 to use as a military training base. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

This column is an opinion by Chief Jason Henry of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

It's been 25 years since Anthony Dudley George made the supreme sacrifice while taking a stand for the right to return home. 

Much has changed in the name of "reconciliation" since he was shot and killed by an OPP officer while occupying an ancestral burial site near the shores of Lake Huron.

The government of Canada has recognized the challenges and systemic racism Indigenous Peoples face because colonial policies and practices, such as the residential school system and the '60s Scoop.

But at Stony Point -- the land we call Aazhoodena -- much has stayed the same. 

The property remains a minefield, riddled with unexploded ordinances and environmental contaminants leftover from 50 years of military training.

It is unsafe for human beings. Yet, human beings live there.

Signs like this are all over the former Camp Ipperwash, in Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Many of the land protectors who arrived at Aazhoodena in 1993, two years before Dudley George was killed, have never left. It's important to understand the significance that Anishinabek people place upon land defending.

The land gives us an inherent connection to our creation story, a connection that places our feet on a particular part of the earth. That is why those at Aazhoodena have given up so much over the last quarter of a century.

They have remained to protect the land, even though that has meant living in aging military structures without conveniences and amenities that most of us take for granted.

Over the years, while there have been many good intentions to clean up and return Aazhoodena, these land protectors have been sharing one tap for drinking water.

We need to move from good intentions to good outcomes. We need to stand with the people who have sacrificed so much for this cause.

Knowing this, our First Nation has been working closely with DND this year to develop a plan to build new housing and infrastructure in safe areas of Aazhoodena. Our first priority is improving safety for those who've been living in the barracks.

We will continue to work with DND to develop the safe parts of the property for other community members who choose to move back. 

An article in Anishinabek News this week said the partnership marks a "sea change" in relations between the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point and the government of Canada.

For the first time since 1942, we have a common vision of community growth. 

When the land defenders occupied the property in 1993 on behalf of the community, it had been more than 50 years since the Canadian government took over Aazhoodena to use as a temporary army training base called "Camp Ipperwash" during the Second World War. 

That was in 1942 and 18 families were sent to Kettle Point First Nation, which was then a separate community.

For decades after the war ended, while cadets trained at Camp Ipperwash, our community members wrote letters and  scheduled meetings, signed petitions and offered compromises as they pleaded with the federal government to let them go home. 

Finally, they moved home in an occupation that started as a peaceful protest and became known as the Ipperwash Crisis. 

Two years later, Dudley George moved into Ipperwash Provincial Park with others to defend the land they knew as a burial ground. They had waited until seasonal campers had left that year. They were not armed.

Dudley George before his death on Sept. 6, 1995. ((Canadian Press))

As a community we are still recovering from the trauma and reeling from the loss of Dudley, who was killed Sept. 6, 1995. That event severed our community, but it also galvanized us. 

As the Additions to Reserve (ATR) process reaches its final stages this month, the governments of Canada and Ontario are in the final stages of returning the land, which signifies the return of the portion of Aazhoodena that was once Ipperwash Park.

It's a move that is symbolic of the sacrifice made by Dudley George in honour of our ancestors. 

It's a step toward reconciliation. Safe housing is another. Our community will not rest until all of Aazhoodena is safely returned.

Because home should be not only a sacred place, but a safe one.

now