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Camp Ipperwash returned after 50 years


Rob McKinley, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Sarnia Ontario







Page 28

It has lasted through one generation, a world war, numerous reports, and countless discussions and negotiations, but now there appears to be progress in the land dispute at Camp Ipperwash, near Sarnia, Ont.

For the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation members, the June 18 signing of an Agreement-in-Principle to return more than 2,000 acres of reserve land to the First Nation has been 50 years in the making.

The parcel of land, which was home to 13 families of the Stony Point Reserve, was appropriated by Canada's Department of National Defence in 1942 under the War Measures Act. The area was turned into a military training camp. The 13 displaced families moved on to the neighboring Kettle Point Reserve.

Questions to the Department of National Defence today about why that particular land was used were deferred to Indian Affairs spokesperson Lynne Boyer.

"They looked at a number of properties and that site was conducive to setting up the training base," said Boyer, adding that the terrain of the land may have been a leading factor in the decision.

So why has it taken so long to get the land back to the people of Kettle and Stony Point?

Boyer said a lot of it was based on misinformation and poor communication.

"The understanding was that [the Department of National Defence] would have it until it was no longer of use, but the First Nation said it was only until once the war was over," said Boyer.

Since 1945, Native officials have been trying to get the land back.

In 1981, the federal government provided $2.5 million to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation for the value of the land and interest payments accrued since the appropriation 40 years before. At the same time, the government reiterated its commitment to return the land to Stony Point once the military was finished with it.

It wasn't until 1994, when federal funding cuts forced the defence department to reduce some of its inventory, that Camp Ipperwash was retired from military use.

In 1995, negotiations were held between defence officials and First Nation leaders to determine the extent of clean-up required to return the land back to its original state. During the same time, court documents were filed by Kettle and Stony Point members regarding the Camp Ipperwash land.

Throughout 1995, tensions around the return of Camp Ipperwash escalated. Clashes between Ontario police and Native protestors resulted in the death of one First Nation member in a separate, but not totally unrelated, incident at Ipperwash Provincial Park.

In late 1996, the federal government and the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation signed a Memorandum of Understanding to provide a federal negotiator to continue discussions, federal support to help the community heal and the return of Camp Ipperwash to the Native people.

For the next two years, more than 25 negotiating sessions - some lasting three days - were held between the First Nations people, and the departments of Indian Affairs, National Defence and Justice.

In January of this year, the draft form of the Agreement-in-Principle was prepared. It was signed six months later.

Included in the agreement is money. As the agreement stands now, the federal government is prepared to dish out a total of $26.5 million to the Kettle and Stony Point people. Boyer said there was no specific department responsible for the funds.

"The money comes from all over the federal budget," Boyer said.

The funds include $12.9 million for community restoration and infrastructure to rebuild the Stony Point reserve and $10.7 million for economic development and community healing for First Nation members most affected by the 1942 appropriation.

With the passing of more than 50 years, however, some of the people most affected have died. Boyer said that was taken into consideration in the drafting of the agreement.

"That is why the compensation is for families and descendants," she said.

In addition to the compensation funding, the government is alo chipping almost $3 million into a four-year program to clean up the area. The money goes to the First Nation for clean-up employment opportunities for band members.

Boyer said the environmental clean-up is very important, as there may be a few dangerous surprises left over from the military use.

"We know there's the likelihood of unexploded ordinances," she said, adding that other items to be cleaned up include detergents, fuel and cleaning materials which may have been spilled.

Finally, within the new agreement, the Kettle and Stony Point members must drop all existing lawsuits against the government with regards to Camp Ipperwash.

Members of the Kettle and Stony Point negotiating team won't comment on the new agreement, but insiders believe the community isn't ready to celebrate just yet. People in the community have been waiting for more than 50 years already, so a little more time to make sure all the "i's" are dotted isn't going to be a big deal, said one band member who didn't want to be named.

From here, the Agreement-in-Principle will be examined and ratified by the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, leading up to a target date some time in December of this year. The Government of Canada will then approve the Final Agreement and it will be implemented.