Along the windswept Lake Huron shore, a new conflict is shaping up only a short distance from where First Nations protester Dudley George was shot and killed in 1995. Beachfront property owners have begun erecting makeshift barricades to keep vehicles off their property after a local native band removed barriers that had protected the three kilometers of beach from drivers.
Workers sent by the Kettle Point Band Council sparked the property owners' anger on Friday when, under the watchful eyes of police, they went in with backhoes to remove the municipal barricades. The band council claims that the route encompasses the band's "historical trails" and that the community wasn't consulted when the no-entry barriers were first erected over 40 years ago. Since the removal of the barricades, drivers have been traversing the open beach and, according to local cottage residents, disturbing the peace. Homeowner Mark Lindsay told VICE Saturday morning that through the day and most of the night, property owners had to listen to the sound of air horns as drivers paraded along the beach.
Kettle Point Chief Tom Bressette has been quoted as saying the action was taken to allow band members access to a travel route that would benefit both band members and visitors.
Lindsay rose early Saturday to erect barricades in an attempt by property owners to protest and reclaim the beach. Later that morning his handiwork resulted in a tangled mass of brush, driftwood, and an old picnic table, stretching to the water's edge precisely where his property deed says his land ends. Would-be beach drivers and homeowners exchanged angry words, he said, but his barricade is staying. "I can show this deed to the OPP if they want. If I have to go to jail today, I will, and I'll go tomorrow or the next day as well."
Still, VICE watched several trucks drive around his barrier in the shallow water at lake's edge.
Ontario Provincial Police are investigating both the removal of the old barriers and Lindsay's makeshift barrier, said Const. Todd Monaghan. Several cruisers were driving around the area Saturday afternoon. The force's main interests are in maintaining the peace and ensuring public safety, Monaghan explained. He added that it's too early in the investigation to say if charges will be laid.
Residents are angry at what they claim is their private property being trespassed on by the trucks, and are also worried about the ecological consequences of the traffic. The beach land and sand dunes are often subject to erosion by storm winds and residents fear that with drivers speeding up and down the beach, the erosion process will be accelerated, said Lindsay. Pedestrians have always been allowed on the beach between the Kettle Point band lands and the area of the former Ipperwash Provincial Park claimed by the band, he explained. Even horse-riding has been allowed, he said.
The beachfront residents have had arguments with some drivers on the beach already, he said. "I informed one [native driver] if he wants to claim all Canada as his land he can go for it, but this is my property and he will have to go start somewhere else."
Residents are upset and frustrated because the OPP "stood by and did nothing" to stop the removal of the barricades, said Eugene Dorey, president of the Centre Ipperwash Community Association, which has helped local officials maintain the barriers for many years, he said. Property owners have to "take a stand," he said, supporting Lindsay's barrier building.
The Kettle Point band "never surrendered the beach," said member Josephine Bedard, who drove down to the beach Saturday to wave an inverted Canadian flag in black-and-white from her truck window. "We like to get along with our neighbours," but local homeowners need to "get their paperwork straight" with the federal government so that they recognize native rights, she told the Star. Band members continue to face racist treatment from some non-native residents she said.
"Some people won't let things go from years ago," she said.
The band's actions "are certainly straining relations" with non-native residents, said local mayor Bill Weber. He added that he was "very disappointed" with the barricades' removal, which was done without consulting town officials. He fears it may set back efforts to improve relations between aboriginals and other residents in the Ipperwash area that have been years in the making. A "working group" with members from the band, the town, and the province have been meeting on matters of common interest for over six years, ever since the end of the Ipperwash Inquiry into the events that led to the death of Dudley George. Weber urges property owners to remain calm.
"We are neighbours. We have to get along," he said, but also added that removing the barricades "was not a neighbourly thing."
"Let's take some time and think things through."
Weber hopes a meeting of the working group scheduled for next week will still take place as planned.