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Handover of Ipperwash long overdue

- July 10th, 2012

Local editor Greg Van Moorsel has weighed in on the Ipperwash saga. Below is his column from Tuesday’s print edition (I would normally just link to it, but it doesn’t seem to be on our site yet).

Greg points out a double standard: When the ownership of Grand Bend beach was in question, the province stepped in quickly to make sure it remained open. Ipperwash, meanwhile, is allowed to languish in bureaucratic limbo for a generation.

As I found when I wrote my Ipperwash story last week, there is no end date for the handover to the local native band. That’s a formula for bureaucratic bungling, in my opinion.

Take it away, Greg . . .

Ontario’s remote southwestern tip, where its flatlands meet the Great Lakes, is among the most charmed real estate that glaciers left Canada millions of years ago.

Today, it’s sun-worshippers, boaters and hunters drawn to the region.

Thousands of years ago, it was Natives in search of fish, game and salt pans. From Bayfield to Grand Bend and south to Kettle Point, the beaches on Lake Huron’s southeast shoreline are among the nation’s best.

Even U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has a family hangout there.

Farther south, along Lake St. Clair, lush marshlands have drawn hunters — from the area’s original aboriginal people to modern day blue-bloods — for eons. Auto baron Henry Ford II kept a sprawling, private retreat there.

The point is, the area is packed with the kind of waterfront turf where, understandably, public and private interests sometimes clash, often taking years to work through the courts.

That said, it’s still hard to fathom the incredibly glacial pace at which governments are ironing out the transfer to area Natives of Ipperwash Provincial Park.

Once the jewel of Southwestern Ontario parks, Ipperwash hasn’t seen a paying visitor since Sept. 4, 1995, when Native protesters, a breakaway group from the nearby Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, occupied the park, citing the need to protect a burial ground there. Even after 17 years, the province lists the park as “temporarily closed.”

A clash with a heavily armed OPP force followed the park occupation, with protester Dudley George fatally shot by a police sniper. Suddenly, southwestern Ontario became a new flashpoint in a turbulent decade of Native-Canadian relations that also produced the crises at Oka and Akwesasne.

The issues in the Ipperwash standoff are no longer a matter of dispute: A public inquiry called by Ontario’s Liberal government in 2003, after it replaced the Tories on whose watch the issue blew up, saw to that. The inquiry’s final report recommended the park be transferred to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. The idea was the land could be used for economic development. Many expected a Native-operated park to quickly open.

Provincial legislation to get the ball rolling was introduced in 2010. But today, more than a full generation after the troubles flared up, there’s still been no transfer. The bureaucratic explanations for the holdup aren’t without merit: Ontario has no system to create Native reserve land, only the feds do. And it’s not clear giving the park to the band will be politically clean, since it was a band breakaway group that occupied Ipperwash in the first place.

Still, with no end in sight, the Ipperwash loose ends are starting to rival the most contentious Lake Huron beach battle ever. That was the nearly 20 years it took a Parkhill contractor, Archie Gibbs, to see a payday after a David-and-Goliath court battle in which he used an historic family deed to wrest title to Grand Bend’s famed beach from the province in 1989.

Ipperwash, however, isn’t Grand Bend. That was a classic legal fight — tenaciously fought by the province and village, even after Gibbs’ landmark court victory. But once it was clear his case was solid, authorities wasted no time fashioning a deal to pay Gibbs — a gag order slapped on the final tab for taxpayers — and put the beach back in public hands. Where’s that hustle to tidy up the Ipperwash file?

Ipperwash isn’t a legal challenge; it’s about doing what a provincial commission has long decided is one way to right an historic wrong.

The sands of time created the jewel that is Ipperwash, but it should not be left to them to hand over the park.

greg.vanmoorsel@sunmedia.ca

UPDATE: Here’s the link to Greg’s column.

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1 comment

  1. R. D. says:

    Sure lets give them Ipperwash Beach, then they can make the same DUMP out of it as they have the Army Camp. Stripped buildings, junk cars, boats and assorted trash. A real beauty spot to drive by on 21 hwy.

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