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Nation protests rowdy campers

Author: 
Roberta Avery, Windspeaker Contributor, SAUBLE BEACH, Ont.
Volume: 
19
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2001

Page 17

Fed up with the rowdy behavior at a summer campground, members of the Saugeen Ojibway Indian band decided to set up barricades to close the camp down before May long weekend festivities took a suspected nasty turn.

About 50 members of the Saugeen First Nation erected the barricades in defiance of a federal court order prohibiting the band from closing down Hideaway Campground, a popular party place with young people.

Last year on Canada's long weekend in May, one man was shot at the campground, and another man died at an adjacent overflow camp the next day when he choked on his own vomit.

"We don't want this lawless behavior in our community. We've done this to protect our people,'' said Saugeen Chief Randy Roote.

James Sebastian, who operates the campground on leased reserve land, refused to comment.

"We're a sovereign nation and we have a right to say what happens on our land,'' said Roote, sitting in a lawn chair where he had spent two nights behind one of the barricades.

The band set up the barricade using huge trees that blocked off a 10-kilometre stretch of County Road 13, one of the main east-west access roads into this Lake Huron beach community. By mid-morning the next day, Anishnabek Police and the Ontario Provincial Police had negotiated the barricades moved to reduce the closed section to about a one-kilometre stretch immediately in front of the camp.

"We're just here to maintain the peace," said Anishnabek Sgt. Warren John, sitting in one of a half-dozen police vehicles parked about 200 metres from one of the barricades.

The band decided to close down the camp and the adjacent overflow Nawash Camp, run by band members, out of concern for the drunken and disorderly behavior that has become the norm at this time of the year, said Roote.

Through a deal overseen by the federal government, Sebastian signed a 20-year lease on the land with private landowners on the reserve, said Roote.

"It's in our territory, but our council was not allowed any input into the deal."

The lease has four years to run.

Armed with a court order from Justice John O'Keefe prohibiting the band from closing him down, Sebastian opened the camp and had checked in about 50 campers before the barricades went up.

It's a far cry from the usual complement of 1,600 campers who crowd into the camp on the May long weekend.

"It's boring in here, we're leaving," shouted one young man from across the fence inside the campground as he and two others started taking down their tent.

Roote decided to defy the court order after hearing rumors that there may be some sort of retribution for the shooting death last year, he said. Police charged Roote with breaching the court order.

"I don't recognize the court's authority to decide what happens on our land," said Roote, who has been chief of the 700-member band for three years.

Sharon Isaac spent Friday night behind the barricades because she believes closing the camps will make her community on the Saugeen reserve safer for her daughter Kelsey, 7.

"It gets wild here. The parties are uncontrolled and our kids are exposed to drugs and alcohol and even our police feel threatened,'' said Isaac as she rolled up sleeping bags used to keep the band members warm overnight.

By the end of the weekend the 50 or so campers who went into Hideaway before the barricades went up had left, said Sgt. William Sayers of the Anishnabek Police.

The barricades were taken down, but about half a dozen band members continued their vigil at the camp gates.

Coroner's inquiry possible

Paul Barnsley, Windspeaker Staff Writer, SARNIA, Ont.

Pierre and Carolyn George have learned there may be a coroner's inquest into the fatal shooting of their brother, Dudley George.

A letter dated May 9 from Joseph Martino, a lawyer representing the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Ontario group that investigates police actions that lead to death or injury, reads:

". . . our office has been in contact with Dr. Tom Wilson,the regional coroner for the Southwest Region. As you may be aware, the Coroner's office is currently considering whether to conduct an inquest regarding the death of Dudley George. Until such time as that decision is made, the Coroner's Office has requested that our office not release further information and material from our file on this matter."

Dudley George was shot to death by Ontario Provincial Police Acting Sgt. Kenneth Deane on Sept. 5, 1995 while protesting in Ipperwash Provincial Park. Deane was convicted of criminal negligence causing death. After exhausting all appeals, Deane now faces dismissal by the OPP. He was charged with breaching the code of conduct under Ontario's Police Act. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. l7 to Sept. l9 in London, Ont.

From the moment of the shooting, questions have been asked but not answered. The OPP drastically altered their approach to dealing with Native protests on the night in question, the first major confrontation with police under the newly elected Harris Conservativegovernment. Rather than negotiating, the police moved against the protesters with heavily armed tactical officers at 11 p.m. Documents uncovered by Opposition members in the Ontario legislature and by George family lawyers have pointed to the premier as having a role in the police action. Harris has denied this. He refuses to call a public inquiry until all legal proceedings resulting from the shooting have been resolved. During his time in office, Harris has called two public inquiries. One was related to minor injuries suffered by striking civil servants who were jostled by police on the legislature grounds. The other is now looking into the deaths in Walkerton, Ont. after the water supply was contaminated.

First Nation leaders and other critics say Harris' refusal to call an inquiry into the shooting of Dudley George is discriminatory. If a few injured non-Native civil servants can have their grievances addressed through a public inquiry and the eorge family can't, or if an incident where non-Native people die is more deserving of a public inquiry than the death of Dudley George, then Harris must see the non-Native people as much more important than Native people, they say.

The failure of either the Ontario or federal government was noted in Amnesty International's annual report.

"Canadian federal and Ontario authorities failed to hold a public inquiry into the death in 1995 of Dudley George, despite calls to do so from the Ombudsman of Ontario, churches, trade unions, relatives of Dudley George, Amnesty International, the media, and the UN Human Rights Committee. Dudley George, an Indigenous protester, was shot dead by a police marksman during demonstrations at Ipperwash Park.

In 1997 an Ontario provincial police officer was tried in connection with the case and given a two-year conditional sentence for 'criminal negligence.' During the trial, the officer testified that he fired his weapon because he believed Dudley George was armed and threatening other officers," the report reads. "However, the judge concluded that the officer had knowingly shot an unarmed man."

The George family is divided over how to proceed in seeking answers. Sam George and others retained legal counsel and filed a wrongful death lawsuit that names, among others, Premier Harris. They have offered to drop the multi-million dollar civil action if Harris calls a public inquiry into the events of that fatal evening.

Pierre George has publicly disavowed that course of action. He believes there were many people who made mistakes and must share the blame for his brother's death. Saying the focus on a high-profile figure like the premier lets others off the hook and gives the premier an excuse to further postpone an inquiry, George has looked at other ways of getting answers.

As he was building a memorial where his brother fell, George found five shell casings. He turned them over to the SIU. Several years later, he asked the SIU whatthey'd done with the shells. He was sent five shells that he insists aren't the same ones he turned over to the investigators.

"It was only last year that I phoned up and said what's going on with those shells. This [SIU investigator] Bob Slack said I found them a year later and anybody could have put them there. That's quite true. So what is the big deal about giving me back my five shells unless they do hold some significance to what happened," he asked.

He believes there are unanswered questions regarding the actual shooting. He said he hopes a coroner's inquest may provide some answers.

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