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EXCLUSIVE: Ipperwash - a new battleground

Last Updated Aug 17, 2017 at 8:26 pm EDT

Only one year after the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point (CKSPFN) signed an agreement with the federal government, Chief Tom Bressette is threatening to take the government to court.

“We’ll go and see the judge and then he’ll be the one to decide,” Bressette tells CityNews in an exclusive interview from Kettle Point. “I want to go in front of a court judge because I only go in front of bureaucrats who are conditioned and trained to tell us what they came to tell us, short of telling us the exact truth.”

The Chief is reeling.

A half dozen federal government representatives, from the Department of National Defence and the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs have left a small meeting hall. The day didn’t go as they planned. A copy of the meeting’s agenda suggests they were hoping to make inroads on a series of issues, instead, they were stone-walled.

“Coming to this table, it’s like meeting with the enemy,” Bressette told them. “I can’t trust you.”

At issue are jobs — lots of them — to fulfill an estimated $300 million worth of contracts.

There are hundreds, potentially thousands, of hidden explosives underground — relics from the land’s time as a military training facility.

All of the explosives need to be found and destroyed, while minimizing the impact on culturally and environmentally-sensitive lands.

“The clearance and remediation of the Stony Point lands is currently estimated to take approximately 15-20 years to complete,” explains Department of National Defence spokesperson Evan Koronewski.

“Decommissioning the former Camp Ipperwash site is a complex undertaking that requires specific attention to a number of sensitive areas such as dunes, wetlands, and sites of cultural significance as well as the conservation of many species at risk.

The navigation and management of sensitive areas, particularly those of cultural importance, have a significant impact on the overall decommissioning schedule,” Koronewski adds.

Related stories:
The Dangers Below – Hidden bombs thwart Ipperwash development
22 years after fatal shooting of Dudley George, Ipperwash still doesn’t feel like home

Bressette isn’t happy with the timeline, he’d like it done sooner, but he’s more concerned about the job opportunities those contracts offer.

“We have an unemployment rate between 75-80 per cent,” Bressette says. “It fluctuates, but that’s how high it gets.”

Surrounded by fertile Ontario farmland and Lake Huron, the Stony Point lands are unusable. A $95 million final settlement agreement will be used to develop economic opportunities on CKSPFN  land — but it’s useless in its current state.

“We wanted to have the ability, because our people have had more than 70 years of watching other people go to work. Now that it’s our chance for them to build something for themselves and their own future, they get that taken from them. That’s what hurts them the most,” he says of the opportunities the clean-up could be providing.

“Why can’t we clean our own land? We want our children to be able to play freely. That’s what our people feel they’re being held back from.”

He says that in discussions with the Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan, he was promised the ability to clear the land.

“We signed an agreement that was supposed to involve cleaning up the land. Now what was supposed to happen at the clean-up discussions, the Minister of National Defence, asked me if we could do the clean-up. I told him we could. I’m a former combat engineer with the U.S. Forces and I told him that.”

The band started hiring a few combat engineers and an environmental engineer so they would be ready. But the jobs aren’t necessarily going to the First Nation.

“We can’t even clean our own land,” Bressette tells the government representatives. “You’ll pay them to clean up our land. That makes a lot of sense, for us to just sit by and watch. I’m sure the Canadian public thinks that’s ridiculous.”

“The final settlement agreement (FSA) recognizes that KSPFN members and their businesses should have the opportunity to participate in the clearance and remediation process and other activities arising from implementation of the FSA, subject to the contracting provisions outlined in the Agreement,” explains Koronewski.

That agreement contains provisions for “aboriginal set asides” — contracts that are set aside from international trade agreements and are tendered only to aboriginal businesses. To date, six contracts have been awarded through Aboriginal set asides, for work such as landscaping and debris removal and groundwater monitoring, valued at $1.2 million. One local company was awarded two of those bids.

But that’s not what Mike Cloud — part of the original group to occupy Camp Ipperwash — thinks the elders had in mind.

“They didn’t want our people just to be labourers, they wanted them to do the important, the really educated jobs.”

His brother and his foster daughter have both become explosive technicians, but they are part of just a handful of CKSPFN members who have benefited from the opportunities.

“They were just going to give us a few hand-picked jobs. We were talking about cleaning up vast areas using the equipment they do, but they said “we don’t think you can do it,” Bressette says. “We’re not being treated as partners, we’re being treated as labourers.”

“Canada encourages the KSPFN to bid on any and all work arising from the cleanup of Stony Point lands,” Koronewski tells CityNews in a statement.