Just inland from Lake Huron along southern Ontario’s Highway 21, a complex of square white buildings stands behind walls of chain-link and barbed wire fencing, posted at regular intervals with official Department of National Defense (DND) signs proclaiming ‘DANGER. NO ENTRY.’
This is, or rather was, ‘Advanced Infantry Training Camp Ipperwash’, established in 1942 on land seized from the families of Stoney Point Reserve by the Canadian Federal government with the promise that it would be returned to them after the war. Since that time, however, the Crown has maintained its occupation in the form of a token six-week summer camp for cadets, and has consistently denied the Stoney Point people’s petitions for the return of their land. For this reason, if you continue north on 21, you will notice that beyond the compound buildings are dwellings of less regular outlines—tents, trailers, a traditional teepee. Since the federal government will not return their home to them, the people of Stoney Point have returned to their home.
Mary and I pulled up past the warning signs in my old red Escort and stepped out into what looked like one of the season’s last gloriously warm fall days. Puppies ran out to play at our feet as a young man named Stacey greeted us and talked a bit about the recent Long Walk for Stoney Point. From the encampment to Ottawa, the 700-kilometer hike was made to raise awareness, support and funds for more permanent housing. We asked how the walkers were received by officials at the Canadian capital upon arriving after their 19-day journey. He shrugged good-naturedly. “We weren’t. They didn’t even recognize us. And the media shut us out.” None of us found this surprising.
Gina, a young woman with a warm smile and a ready laugh, soon approached us. After introductions she offered us a tour of Stoney Point, ‘so you can see how beautiful it is and why it means so much to us.’ The three of us climbed into her old sedan and bumped down the service road, suddenly engulfed by deep rolling woods of oaks, elms and maples at their richest change of color.
‘Ashamed of my native heritage’
Gina grew up on neighboring Kettle Point, the reserve to which her parents and all the other Stoney Point people were removed when their land was seized and their homes bulldozed. Much later, after she moved to the city, it was her young son’s questions about her past and their heritage that brought her back to eventually take part in this work to reclaim the land. Before then, she said, “I was ashamed of my native heritage and tried to hide it. Now I’m learning my people’s traditions and coming to understand who I really am.”
We turned off onto a two-track where an old sign, grown over with brush warned, ‘DANGER: DETONATION SITE’, and passed into a lush meadow. My eyes fell on a huge old army tank embedded in the trees at the far side of the clearing, its cannon thrust up at an odd angle. I commented on its bizarre intrusion. Gina’s eyes remained looking straight ahead. “We don’t pay any attention to those things,” she said. And then, as if reminded of other intrusions, she laughed, “The police like to patrol around here while we’re working, getting wood, or whatever. Sometimes we ask them if they would like to help; but they never do.”
More forest suddenly opened onto a lagoon crowded with cattails and rich red sumac iridescent in the sun. All the while on this tour, Mary and I had been stunned by the area’s abrupt flourish of forest, inland lakes and dunes, diversity uncharacteristic of the rest of lower Ontario, so abused and homogenized by mining and agribusiness. When we stopped to take in the beauty along the water, Mary murmured her surprise that it could be so wild here. Gina nodded, “Yeah, that’s the way we want it.”
As we went on, she described her own experience of the Long Walk for Stoney with exuberance. “You know, people assume it wasn’t successful because the government officials didn’t recognize us, but that isn’t what it was really about. We brought our message to people all along the way. Because of that, thousands more know what we are doing. It felt so good. And it made us even stronger and more unified.” In early May, when the Stoney Point people began the reoccupation of their land, they lit a ceremonial fire to signify and honor that unity, Gina told us. It still burns, and a firekeeper is always on duty to see that it never goes out.
Back at the picnic table, near the group’s big cook tent, Gina introduced us to Clifford George, a band Elder. He smiled as we shook hands, asking us, “So, what do you think of my people’s land?” From his neck hung a bolo he himself had carved gracefully into the shape of a turtle from the wood of the sumac growing on the point. “My family used to make a living from making baskets and lawn chairs and other things from these woods.” He explained that the abundance of vegetation and wildlife provided families living there a great degree of self-sufficiency.
But that was before he was shipped out to fight in W.W. II. It was while he was overseas that he got word that the DND was invoking the War Measures Act to confiscate his homeland. When he returned, he found his people pushed onto the adjacent Kettle Point Reserve. “Even in just that short distance, there is a great difference in that land there,” Clifford said. Kettle Point is devoid of the natural diversity which the Stoney Point people could previously depend upon for sustenance.
Reserved for Military Games
Clifford is emphatic in his belief that by returning to this land and learning traditional ways, the Stoney Point families and their descendents can regain that degree of self-sufficiency. He also knows the work requires struggle. He feels the government’s desires for that piece of land go deeper than the surface area reserved for military games—that there is some other reason why it refuses to relinquish its hold, in violation of its own laws and constitution. The possibility that the Crown wants the land for its mining potential is not at all surprising, in keeping as it is with the entrenched pattern of illegal seizures of native lands for mineral exploitation here in the U.S., from the Black Hills to Newe Segobia to Big Mountain. Last year, exploratory blasting was carried on offshore of Kettle Point.
The Stoney Point people’s aspirations for autonomy are reason enough for the Crown’s refusal to honor their claims. Government negotiators are offering a cash deal in order to ensure full title to the land after the DND dismantles the virtually unused training camp. To effect this process, the colonial strategy of group manipulation and selective representation, used to extinguish native land claims world-wide, is evident here as well. Having thrust the people of Stoney together with those of Kettle Point at the time of relocation, the government now acknowledges as spokespersons only those from Kettle Point willing to sell off the Stoney Point land forever. Some encamped at Stoney Point believe the Kettle Point people are being ‘scared’ by government negotiators into accepting a cash settlement, which has caused conflict among people of both bands. “They are using that old divide and conquer tactic against us,” Clifford said.
Jailed for Three Days
Gina came back bringing cups of hot black coffee, as others from the camp joined us at the table. Clifford talked about the blatant disdain with which the military treated their land. Of two sacred burial grounds, one, as we had seen, was vandalized, the other had been bulldozed. “Then they built this access road right through our land without even bothering to get our approval.”
To draw attention to this particular situation, Clifford and two others staged a protest by setting up a roadblock and charging an entrance fee. He deadpanned, “I figured five dollars sounded about fair.” But since the protestors had not actually broken the law by accepting the money (because the first car they stopped happened to be the patrol officers themselves), once they were arrested it took the police all afternoon to dig up something to charge them with. Finally, Clifford was jailed for three days on charges of ‘mischief.’ Smiling, he told us that even the bail hearing was attended by a big entourage of support people from the reserve. His trial is set for January and sure to bring out even more supporters.
Clifford is confident of the band’s struggle to reclaim Stoney Point. He gestured toward the young people working around the camp, making preparations for a long cold winter. “It’s them that give me hope. They are my strength.”
The Stoney Point people need funds and supplies to make it through the winter. For more information, call: (519) 786-4181 or 383-7109.
See “Merge & Conquer: Military Base Closure Ignores Stoney Point Native Land Claim,” FE #344, Summer, 1994.