The #LandBack struggle and the 1974 Ojibway occupation of Anicinabe Park near Kenora, Ontario

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo from ‘1974 Anicinabe Park Occupation 40 Yr Anniversary’ Facebook page.

Robert Jago, a member of the Kwantlen First Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe, has asserted: “The modern fight to reclaim land began with the 1974 Ojibway occupation of Anicinabe Park near Kenora, Ontario.”

On the 40th anniversary of the occupation, Lorraine Major, one of the people who occupied the park, commented: “In the [Treaty 3] area, there are not very many people who even know about the occupation. It’s not something that’s talked about. It’s not in our history. There’s very little knowledge about what happened.”

What happened that summer?

It has been noted that occupation “began in mid-July and lasted until late August.” Another article specifies that it lasted 39 days. Linda Finlayson, who visited the park during the occupation, has written: “The police in Kenora gave the Native Youth in Anicinabe Park a deadline to evacuate the park. Several youth left before this deadline. These youth went to court August 17.”

On August 19, 1974, the New York Times reported: “For a month, armed Ojibway militants have occupied a 14‐acre park in the resort town of Kenora in northwestern Ontario to call attention to long‐standing grievances against the white authorities.”

“The embattled Ojibway in Kenora Park, led by 24‐year‐old Louis Cameron, the head of the militant Ojibway Warriors Society, marked the new phase of their campaign yesterday by destroying a collection of firebombs in a clearing. They then placed eight rifles and handguns on a blanket and turned them over to Mayor James Davidson of Kenora at the barricaded entrance to the park. In return, the 80 young Indians were given a city permit to spend 10 days more in the park, which they had occupied since [July 22].”

That article adds: “The Ojibway say the park was Indian land sold illegally to the city of Kenora by the Department of Indian Affairs in 1959. The militants also demand social reforms for some 7,000 Indians, most of them impoverished, in Kenora and nearby reserves.”

Years later, Jago interviewed seven members of the Warrior Society who took part in the occupation of the park. He spoke Lorraine Major (noted above), Tommy Keesick, Harry Greene, Rosabelle Major, Richard Greene, Lynn Skeen and Nancy Morrison.

Morrison said: “I went to residential school – the horror stories everybody knows. I was 17 years old, and I went back to my reserve. And when I came back, there was absolutely nothing [because everyone had been forcibly relocated]. No tents or anything left.”

Greene stated that the revelation in 1970 that the Reed Paper had been dumping mercury in the waters near the Ojibway community of Grassy Narrows 70 kilometres north of Kenora “really inspired us … to do more serious things to make our grievances known.”

And Major has highlighted the issues that drove the occupation included: “Lack of employment, poor housing, education, the high rates of Native peoples in the jails.”

Following the end of the occupation of the park, a demonstration took place on Parliament Hill on September 30, 1974.

In an interview from late 1974, Louis Cameron (noted in the New York Times article above) commented: “I think the way we planned it while we were in Anicinabe Park was to have a demonstration on Parliament Hill to illustrate the oppression and dictatorship against native people to the rest of the world. …I think our objective was to illustrate [that Canada] commits death on the native people.”

Cameron adds: “We did get approximately 800 to 900 native people on Parliament Hill that day. As we were going up Parliament Hill, we saw trucks passing by, big army trucks loaded with soldiers.” He describes pushing through a first line of RCMP police and then advancing against a second barricade of about 250 police by the steps He then notes: “And, while we were defeating two lines of those RCMP, the national guard with their bayonets started coming forward. There was about fifty or seventy-five of them.”

Cameron further noted: “They lowered their guns with the bayonets pointing towards us and started marching towards us. That was [when] the riot police advanced from the right of the demonstration and started hitting people with the clubs and their guns. They had tear-gas guns and they were hitting the people with that.”

Forty-seven years after the occupation of Anicinabe Park and the protest on Parliament Hill, the Land Back struggle continues.

Photo from ‘1974 Anicinabe Park Occupation 40 Yr Anniversary’ Facebook page.

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