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'We are the forgotten ones:' 25 years after the Ipperwash Crisis, the community is still healing

Last Updated Sep 9, 2020 at 4:50 pm EDT

“We are the forgotten ones, we are the ones that are left behind,” Lacey George said outside her home, a former army barrack on Stony Point.

George is one of about 60 people who live on traditional Aazhoodena territory, land that was seized by the Canadian government under the War Measures Act in 1942, with promises to return the 2240 acre tract, once World War II was over. It didn’t.

George loves her community, filled with people who were part of the reclamation efforts of 1993-1995, efforts that led to the return of Ipperwash Provincial Park to the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point, and the eventual return of the former army camp.

But it also resulted in the near-death beating of a council member, the shooting of a teenager, and the shooting and killing of Dudley George – all at the hands of police. The trauma that fills the community is immediately evident.

“Living in this place, it can get dark and gloomy,” George said. She points out that most Canadians, neighbouring communities and many within the very First Nation of Kettle & Stony Point, don’t truly understand why so many of her neighbours stay in dilapidated homes, without potable water.

“You see a lot of hatred and bringing others down,” she said. They stay, she said, because it is the land they fought to reclaim.

“Its my home, that’s why I’m still here,” explained Pierre George, Dudley’s older brother. He lives in a shelter he made himself – after years in an unheated home

“I don’t quit. Sure, I may end up dying here, but what better place to die than in your home?” said Pierre.

Kettle and Stony Point Chief Jason Henry points out that the Indigenous connection to land is very real and breaking that connection can have lasting impacts.

“Over time we’ve been separated from that land,” he explained, referencing the massive surrender of land in the Huron Tract Treaty of 1827, and the forced expropriation of Stony Point in 1942. “They say that time heals all wounds, but if you leave a wound to fester, it just keeps getting worse and worse.”

“When (the military) did move us out, when they did kick us out, we were a community of healing,” Isaiah Thomas, an 18-year old man who grew up on Stony Point said. “We have a lot of healing ways, traditional healing ways and we lost a lot of that when we moved out. We lost that connection to the land.”

He points to the depression, addiction and alcohol abuse he sees all over the reserve; not only on Stony Point, but throughout the larger Kettle & Stony Point First Nation.

“I’d love to see all my community members to get proper housing and then I’d love to see real therapists come in here,” he said. “We haven’t had any healing since the happening with Dudley and nobody really talks about it especially with each other. And I think its really important that we talk about our problems. Because it dulls you.”

“Post traumatic stress has to be dealt with, we have to deal with that as a community,” Henry adds referencing those affected by the events of September 6, 1995.

But for the most part, it hasn’t been dealt with.

Phoebe Bressette worked for several years in the mental health care field and is worried about the lack of resources in the community.

“Right now there isn’t much being offered,” she said from her home near the shores of Lake Huron. “There are a few resources provided by our health centre services, but it is not enough. I’d like to see more extensive help readily available for our People.”

Before returning home to Kettle Point, Bressette spent several years working with marginalized communities in London and helping them work through addiction, mental health issues and trauma.

“What would be helpful is to have a myriad of extensive mental health resources, coupled with our spiritual teachings because you can not expect only one avenue to help many. What might work for one, might not work for all.”

“You come to my community, you see damaged people,” Thomas said. “But if you look past that, you see broken houses. So really, you see a broken community and how you fix the community, you fix the people, you fix the houses- but you fix the people first.”

And while the community seems to agree that massive assistance is needed to help heal the entire community, Henry seems focused on the immediate housing problem. Late last month, he hosted a meeting with residents at Stony Point to discuss transitional housing plans.

“We’re calling it ‘phase one housing’,” Henry explained. The idea is to move a handful of people living on Stony Point into housing on some of the land that has been cleared of unexploded ordinances and slowly expand that so that all Stony Point residents have safe homes.

“There’s no solid plan yet. We’re in a study phase right now, where we take community consultation, develop a concrete plan with costs and work plans and timelines and move that forward.”

Residents are hopeful, yet skeptical. “That’s been in the talks and [in the] works for five or seven years,” Lacey George said, pointing out that she believes elders should get new homes before anybody else.

Elders, like Pierre George who not only lost his brother Dudley to an OPP sniper, but who has been on the former camp since 1993.

But Pierre George says he won’t buy it, “until I see one actually being built.”

“We’ve been hearing about temporary housing for six years. so we don’t jump for joy when we hear it,” Thomas says, echoing Pierre George’s reservations.

“We’ve been left on the back burner for so long, how do you just believe that they are coming out of their way to help you- when they haven’t done it for 25 years?” Lacey George questions. A looming November Chief and council election has compelled many individuals to question the sudden motivation to move on this front.

“Our people actually deserve houses, not temporary houses,” Thomas laments. “We are a permanent people. We lived here and came back.” And while Henry agrees that permanent houses are best, it could take over a decade for that to happen. He believes transitional housing can begin within a few years.

Stony Point is being handed back to the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point, parcel-by-parcel after being cleaned of contaminants and UXOs.

It’s estimated it could take another 20 to 25 years for the entire Aazhoodena territory to be cleared, meaning it’ll be a century of military occupation and control of the land and fifty years since Dudley George’s death before the land is cleared enough to build permanent housing for everybody displaced by the forced move in 1942, and the land is back to its rightful owners.