25th anniversary of the police killing of Aazhoodena land defender Anthony ‘Dudley’ George in Ontario, Canada
It was 25 years ago today that a police sniper shot and killed unarmed Aazhoodena land defender Anthony ‘Dudley’ George who was seeking a return of his ancestral lands near Sarnia, Ontario that were being used as a Canadian military base.
George’s family was one of 18 families displaced from the Stony Point First Nation in 1942 when the federal government expropriated the land to build the base. The government had promised to return the land after World War II, but at the time of George’s death, 53 years after that dispossession, the land was still occupied by the military.
George’s family moved back to Stony Point, then known as Camp Ipperwash, in 1993. Then, after decades of writing letters, meetings and signing petitions, 35 land defenders began a reoccupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park on September 4, 1995.
Notably, the park, also situated on Aazhoodena land, contained burial grounds that the defenders said were not being respected or protected.
On September 5, Ontario Premier Mike Harris met with several government officials. The provincial Attorney General later testified that Harris shouted: “I want the fucking Indians out of the park.” A recording also emerged of police officers discussing the premier’s view that the government had “tried to pacify and pander to these people far too long.”
On September 6, heavily armed Ontario Provincial Police Officers dressed in riot gear launched a nighttime raid against the land defenders.
That is when Dudley George was shot by a police sniper.
After Dudley was wounded, his sister Carolyn and brother Pierre had to drive him to the hospital because the authorities did not have an ambulance in place.
The reoccupation of the park continued and by September 9 the provincial police, further escalating the situation, requested assistance from the Canadian Forces, including two Huey helicopters to be placed on standby.
On September 10, the Peace Brigades International-North America Project (PBI-NAP) reported that it had received a verbal invitation to: “be observers for First Nations people if needed; be present during discussions between the different groups as a nonpartisan witness; do accompaniment for anyone fearing further violence on the part of the police; write nonpartisan reports on what we witness and hear.”
By July/August 1996, PBI-NAP reported: “PBI has made three more visits to the area of Ipperwash.” That included an interview on May 30, 1996 with Bernard George, Dudley’s cousin who was beaten by police on the night of Dudley’s death.
In that interview, Bernard commented:
“[When we said we wanted our land back] the excuses [the military gave] were that there were bombs there, and there’s still need for [the army base] cause there’s wars, and we’ve got to train people to fight wars in other countries.”
“There was a little camping area, way down in the corner, right on the other side of the road in what they call Ipperwash Park where all the military took their wives and their children, and it was a family camp resort and they let their kids run over the hills to the beach there – and they called it a dangerous area.”
“When our people wanted to go in there and pick medicine, peel bark off the trees or whatever, they were right there chasing them around, with two or three jeeps, saying you need permission to come in here, this is a dangerous area.”
“[We would say] ‘Hey this land is where our grandfathers lived, and we want it back. You said you’d give it back to us, so stick to your truth. Where is your honesty?’”
Camp Ipperwash is now closed, but the federal government still “owns” the land on Aazhoodena territory. The Department of National Defence says it will take 25 years to clear the unexploded grenades and artillery shells and to decontaminate the land. Aazhoodena families are now living on the closed base but lack clean drinking water.
While the lands continue to be in a long process of being returned to the community, the trauma of almost 80 years of displacement and violence remain.
Photo: Carolyn George holds a photo of her brother Dudley George on the 25th anniversary of his death. Photo by Kate Dubinski/CBC News.
Photo: This commemoration marks the site where Dudley George was killed.