On Monday, September 4, 1995, a group of Stoney Point First Nations began occupying Ipperwash Provincial Park to bring attention to a land claim stemming back to land expropriated from them during World War Two. The First Nations also claimed the grounds contained a burial site. I first heard of the occupation in a small story published in the Woodstock, Ontario, paper that had “released me from my duties” just a week before. I immediately thought back to the Oka Crisis in 1990 and realized I may have an exclusive opportunity to take some pictures and sell them to the major papers in Toronto. So the next day I took off on my own to the shores of Lake Huron south of Grand Bend in my hand-me-down Chrysler Fifth Avenue to see what I could find.
I had no idea where I was going or what I was going to see. And it turned out there was really nothing going on. The roads were quiet, the beach was cold and empty and there were no signs of any activity near the former military camp known as Camp Ipperwash.
I had made a phone call to The Toronto Star earlier that day and drove all the way back that evening to The Star’s building downtown with my film in the hopes that this little story might get some more play with a photo or two attached. I drove to Hamilton that night to my parents’ place and eagerly flipped through the next day’s edition. No luck. It was cool, however, being in the newsroom and photo departments; this was back in the days of photographic film. (You young people may want to Google that.)
That night in Ipperwash, the group of Chippewa natives and the OPP, who were sent in to the area by then-premier Mike Harris, clashed, resulting in the death of native Dudley George. As I watched the news I knew I was one day too early at the park. I also knew now the exclusivity of my assignment was reduced to nothing. The entire Fourth Estate in Ontario would be heading to Ipperwash now. I went back.
I rubbed shoulders with television crews and tagged along with Mike Cassese of The Sun for bit. I did my best to get some interesting shots.
Media scrums ensued. This felt like real journalism to me.
Down at the beach, some of the Chippewa had come out from the park. The cameras and photojournalists were there too. I don’t recall too much of what happened there; my perspective limited to the view through my lens. One of the last shots I took was one of the men staring me down. This shot and a few others I had printed and took to Macleans Magazine where they sit to this day, I would presume, in a filing cabinet.
The films and these shots are, after 17 years, finally seeing the light of day.
Visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipperwash_Crisis for a more complete telling of the incident.