Ontario returns disputed land to natives

Thu Dec 20, 2007 12:31pm EST
 
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TORONTO (Reuters) - Ontario said on Thursday it will return to aboriginal ownership a disputed and greatly symbolic swath of land on which police killed an aboriginal protester 12 years ago, sparking a government scandal and years of legal wrangling.

An Ontario Provincial Police sniper killed protester Dudley George in 1995 as police moved in to try to end the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park, on the shores of Lake Huron, by demonstrators who were demanding the return of the park and adjacent lands to native ownership.

The killing was widely seen as an overreaction to the protest and spurred accusations that former Ontario Premier Mike Harris had encouraged the tough police stand that led to George's death.

A subsequent government initiated a lengthy public inquiry, which recommended the land should be returned to the natives.

Canada expropriated the Ipperwash lands from their native owners during the Second World War. The federal government used part of the land for a military installation and Ontario later turned some of the lands into a park.

The Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation claimed the park lands as an aboriginal burial ground. The park has been unused since the 1995 killing.

"By returning these 109 acres, by keeping a treaty promise, and by honoring the memory of my brother Dudley, we are respecting each other. It shows we can be friends," Sam George, brother of the slain man, told reporters.

The land will temporarily be co-managed by the provincial government and the First Nation before it is transferred in full, said Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant.

"We've got to find a way, where there is friction, to live together," Bryant told reporters.

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Peter Galloway)

 
<p>Members of the Kettle and Stoney Point Indian Reserve block the road in front of the native occupied Camp Ipperwash on September 11, 1995. REUTERS/Peter Jones</p>