Ipperwash chill felt in Caledonia

Posted on February 29, 2008 in Equality Debates

TheStar.com – comment – Ipperwash chill felt in Caledonia
February 29, 2008
Jim Coyle

It’s the first day of the third year at Caledonia, no end in sight to the Indian occupation there, and Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant is left to sell a message antithetical to both his high-octane personality and these hurry-up times.

Patience, he counsels. Time. Talk. The only durable result is a negotiated land-claim settlement between the federal government and Six Nations, however long it takes.

It’s an argument – this praise of slowness – that works well in ketchup ads and the testimonials of beer makers.

But in an age that demands quick solutions, with a community pleading for relief from intimidation, violence and economic disruption associated with the standoff, it’s no easy hand to play.

A measure of Caledonia’s despair could be heard yesterday in the tone of local MPP Toby Barrett as he marked the anniversary saying, “nothing has changed” since this time last year.

It’s gone on so long, he said, that anger is being replaced by “a numbing acceptance.”

The depth of division is also found in Bryant’s language, his role these days described in terms normally reserved for globe-trotting peacemakers.

“My approach is détente. It’s a warming of relations. It’s shuttle diplomacy.”

Except that his ports of call aren’t foreign capitals, but the chiefs, municipal officials, tribal elders and “hanging out” in Caledonia at places like the local doughnut shop and barber shop.

The stakes, too, are framed by the minister in images more typical of locales of chronic strife.

The native and non-native communities in Caledonia used to “shop together, drink double-doubles together, play hockey together, go to church together, fall in love and get married. And now the situation is just plain old segregated.”

Locals consider it “a tragedy,” he says, “because they were very proud of the fact they lived side by side and they had a good thing going.”

For Conservative Leader John Tory, the situation now is anything but. He calls for more aggressive policing, railing at the rule of law being mocked by thugs charging tolls – with impunity – to access disputed land.

Blame that on the Ipperwash chill. The province has based its approach on the recommendations of a judicial inquiry into an Indian protest a dozen years ago there that resulted in the police killing of native Dudley George.

The road map provided by Mr. Justice Sidney Linden was clear, if hardly direct. He acknowledged the debt to history, the laborious remedial work of building relations from long legacies of betrayal, the need for negotiation over confrontation.

His onus was also clear. It was the responsibility of the province and other institutions to “redouble their efforts to build successful, peaceful relations with aboriginal peoples.”

Bryant, who wrote his thesis at Harvard on aboriginal conflicts with the state, said, “the way we’re going to do that is by negotiating. It’s either negotiation or escalation.”

And escalation, he says, doesn’t produce resolution, only delays one. The tragedy of Ipperwash was both the death of George, he says, but also the 12 years afterward when “nothing happened.”

So Bryant’s task, it appears, is to lower expectations even as he lowers temperatures. Land-claim disputes are not a forum for quick fixes. And the slow going, the long view, is evident in the many stages he describes on the pathway to success.

“The goal is to create some trust that might lead to a breakthrough solution, which is not to solve everything, but enough of a breakthrough solution that we can get the communities back together.”

Sure, there’s “frustration about the pace,” he says.

But, in a dispute measured in centuries, there probably always has been.

Jim Coyle’s provincial affairs column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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