The Ipperwash Beach Walk

Master’s Thesis Project
(2016)

Before it became a real digital prototype with an accompanying 115-page written thesis document, The Ipperwash Beach Walk was a simple collection of ideas and aspirations. This Master’s thesis began with a review of Indigenous Methodologies as a way to begin to decolonize what had previously been a very colonized approach to research. From there, the co-design method was chosen as a way to work with the Chief & Council of the Kettle & Stony Point First Nation to ensure the project benefitted the community and reflected its values.

The research began with an hour-long focus group session with Chief & Council where the group reviewed a mass of photographic content collected for Monica’s previous film projects. The photos were attached to a 10-foot long map of Ipperwash Beach, organized along a timeline in chronological order.

A second hour-long focus group session with Chief & Council reviewed the timeline of photos and identified areas where there was a gap in the story. For instance, Councilor Pete Cloud noted that species at risk and invasive species should be added as an important topic to address. This suggestion and others were added on Post-It Notes before the entire timeline was photographed and shared with the band administration for dispersal to the entire membership.

This focus group content became the basis for a GPS-guided story for mobile devices which could be accessed during a real beach walk along an historical trail between the Kettle Point Reserve and the Stony Point Reserve. The next steps involved forming the focus group content into a story, and using locative technology to deliver the content to audiences.

The Content

The Ipperwash Beach Walk uses a storytelling platform built for mobile to explain how Ipperwash became a vacation destination. Using GPS, the platform delivers documentary media and interactive visualizations to smartphones during a real walk across Ipperwash Beach.

As participants cross a series of GPS points during the 2.7-kilometre walk they learn how the area was colonized by settlers. The experience is a form of counter-mapping, using “before and after” photos and interactive maps to discuss topics such as treaties, the Indian Act, and the environmental impacts of colonization.

The Storytelling Platform

Created through the Public Visualization Lab at OCAD University, In-Situ Data Stories is a digital platform designed to deliver multimedia content to mobile devices as users travel across a terrain.

Using locative technology, the platform launches video, interactive visualizations and audio as users cross through pre-set zones. The content builds to tell a story that unfolds during an embodied walk across a landscape.

The In-Situ Data Stories platform is intended to be open-source and free to use. It can be used in any location to tell site-specific stories.

As of April 2016, the platform was functional and could be accessed by anyone with a smartphone or tablet and access to The Ipperwash Beach Walk through a web browser. While the content available through the platform was bare-bones, the project was awarded the Medal for the Digital Futures program at the 2016 GradEx Graduate Exhibition.

Status: Completed (storytelling platform) + Unfinished (content) Funding: Public Visualization Lab (storytelling platform) + Self-Funded (thesis document + content); Future funding ideas: Canada Council for the Arts’ Digital Strategy Fund

Phase 2: Huron Tract Treaty Map

Interactive Map
(2017)

Approved by Chief & Council in March 2017, this project was pitched as an interactive map that would become the first scene within The Ipperwash Beach Walk. The interactive map would work on smartphones and was to contain a timeline that could be swiped with a finger, causing a map of the Huron Tract to morph as negotiations for the land cession progressed from 1818 and 1827.

Two focus group sessions were held at the Kettle Point Elder’s Lodge in April and October of 2017, open to the entire Kettle & Stony Point community. Both were underattended, for a variety of reasons. During the first session, some community members requested handouts from the researchers (versus them sharing their own knowledge, as was advertised) and they departed when handouts were not provided. Those who did attend were not able to share any knowledge about the treaty negotiations.

It became clear the historical knowledge being sought through the focus group attendees was too obscure, and was not easily accessible to the average person. With further archival research, Monica also concluded that Joan Holmes’ work for the Ipperwash Inquiry barely scratched the surface of the Huron Tract story. After re-assessing the project, she spent her remaining contract hours on further archival research to ensure the final interactive map would be legally and factually accurate. Monica soon turned to her Treaty Workshop partner David D Plain from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, and to Janet MacBeth from the Bkejwanong Heritage Centre. While both researchers are extremely knowledgeable about the Huron Tract, the boundaries of the treaty area continued to remain elusive.

At present this project remains half-finished, requiring further archival research to “crack the case,” as well as coding to create the interactivity of the map.

Status: Unfinished; Requires further research + coding; Funding: Public Visualization Lab; Future funding ideas: Business development grants + Canada Council for the Arts’ Digital Strategy Fund

You’ve Inspired a Nation

Documentary short
(2012)

The backstory, written in 2013:

In a First Nations community, anger can bubble under the surface for many years or decades before it finally materializes in a way that is visible to the human eye.

I just happened to have my camera rolling as the anger on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation finally boiled over into a heated argument between a band member and a representative from CN Rail. It was the culmination of different events in different parts of the country that had led to that moment, and for several weeks in December 2012 and January 2013 if felt as if all of Canada was caught up in it.

It had started with the Aamjiwnaang First Nation’s reserve land being gradually shaved down from over 10,000 acres to around 3,100 acres. The land had been lost through surrenders to the Town of Sarnia and to industry, starting in the mid-1800’s, and continuing through to a heavy period of land loss between the 1920’s and the 1960’s. A large part of the reserve had been absorbed by the encroaching town, and the remainder had become what is today known as Chemical Valley. A spur line, owned by CN Rail, was constructed across the First Nation as a way to link the surrounding chemical and oil companies by railway.

Thousands of kilometres away on James Bay, the Attiwapiskat First Nation was experiencing its own problems, including a housing crisis that was documented in Alanis Obomsawin’s recent film The People of the Kattawapiskak River. By October 2011, as winter approached, the First Nation had declared a state of emergency over the shortage of inhabitable housing. The Department of Indian Affairs had responded by trying to bring in “third party management” to handle the band’s finances. Chief and Council (led by the recently elected Chief Theresa Spence) refused, stating they welcomed an audit of their finances to prove the band was not mis-spending funding, but simply lacked the funds to cope. The incident created particularly bad feelings between the First Nation and the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, the Harper government followed up the May 2011 Canadian federal election by proposing a number of omnibus bills that introduced legislative changes. Those bills happened to violate treaties with First Nations across Canada. As the omnibus bills worked their way through Parliament, anger began to build, and by November 2012, the Idle No More movement was gaining momentum on social media.

In Attawapiskat, the housing crisis continued, and when Chief Theresa Spence announced she was going on a hunger strike on December 11, 2012, it launched a wave of supportive protests and marches across the country.

The blockade of the CN Rail spur line on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation was originally intended to be a one day protest in support of Chief Spence’s hunger strike. However, after CN Rail served the protesters with an injunction to have them legally removed from the rail tracks, the blockade was moved to another crossing where it was thought that the rail tracks illegally crossed the First Nation’s land. From there, CN Rail threatened to sue those at the blockade for millions in lost revenue. It was this exchange that I happened to capture on camera.

The story continues to this day, as Aamjiwnaang band member Ron Plain faces charges stemming from the incident. It has been said that he is the only person in Canada faced with legal consequences relating to the wave of Idle No More protests that swept the country this past winter.

Status: Completed; Funding: Self-funded

Freedom Drum

Freedom Drum

Documentary short
(2007)

The backstory:

There are easier subjects to pick for the topic of your first short film than the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This I know.

Amnesty International Canada had standing at Part II of the Ipperwash Inquiry, so in 2006 I found myself bumping into Amnesty staff during some of the witness testimony in Forest, Ontario. They asked me to come to Ottawa to film during a 24-hour vigil in support of the Declaration, which was about to go to a General Assembly vote at the UN within days. Amnesty was only after a few minutes of footage to add to their website, but after filming for almost 24 hours straight at the vigil, I found I had enough of a story arc to create a short film from the footage.

It felt great to have something I’d shot and edited myself under my belt. However, the experience of making Freedom Drum resulted in something I wasn’t expecting — it opened my eyes for the first time to the larger activist community. It also contributed in a substantial way to my interest in Indigenous stories happening outside of what was going on in my own backyard.

Update:

Freedom Drum initially premiered at the 2007 One World Film Festival. Ten years later, it returned to the big screen in Ottawa for a special 10th-anniversary screening with Amnesty International Canada on the opening night of the 28th Annual One World Film Festival.

Status: Completed; Funding: Amnesty International Canada

Surrender Meeting

Ipperwash Park Film Project

Research Project
(2005-2012)

Equal parts law, history, mapping and storytelling, The Ipperwash Park Film Project was meant to last one year and result in an educational documentary that was a case study on how First Nations’ lands could be wrongfully taken. The film soon morphed into a seven-year research project once the legal team for the Estate of Dudley George realized that Monica was able to unearth documents that other researchers missed. In all, The Ipperwash Park Film Project came to include almost 2,000 hours of original research focusing on topics such as the 1928 Stony Point beachfront surrender, the 1927 Kettle Point beachfront surrender, and the 1919 surrenders on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation which enabled the creation of Chemical Valley. The project also resulted in almost 20 historical recreations based on the archival research. Community members from the Kettle & Stony Point First Nation participated as actors in the recreations, and the entire project was guided by Sam George, and after his passing, his wife Veronica George.

Lawyer Murray Klippenstein put a strong emphasis on the research and the resulting footage being legally and factually accurate. This content is available to be re-purposed into future projects, with the stipulation that it remains educational and not-for-profit.

Status: Unfinished; Requires post-production; Funding: Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors; Future funding ideas: Business development grants + Canada Council for the Arts’ Digital Strategy Fund

Maynard "Sam" George

George vs. Harris

Feature Documentary
(2002-Present)

It’s been almost 25 years since Anishinaabe activist Dudley George was killed by a police sniper during a land protest, but most days it feels like a wound that has never healed. For some, the raw emotions surrounding the events that led to Dudley’s death are still simmering under the surface. Talking out loud about the “Ipperwash Crisis” feels like ripping a Band-Aid off a wound, exposing a darkness underneath.

George vs. Harris is a true-crime documentary that peels away the layers of a complex geopolitical story to reveal a simple tale about family and community. At the centre is a wrongful death lawsuit filed in 1996 by Dudley’s siblings against Ontario Premier Mike Harris, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Crown. As a driving force behind both the lawsuit and the Ipperwash Inquiry, Dudley’s older brother Sam offers an intimate glimpse into a family in turmoil and a small community deeply divided over the events that led to the shooting. Equal parts cinéma vérité footage, stock footage and legal exhibits, and edited in the vein of Netflix’s true-crime series The Keepers, this film exposes how the legal system and the media continue to divide and distract from the truth about why Dudley died.

First greenlit as a student project in Sheridan College’s Advanced Television & Film program in 2002, the film continued after the Ipperwash Inquiry was called in 2004. It grew to include original archival research, stock footage, and photos, and between 60 and 100 hours of new footage (now old enough to be considered archival footage). Further filming is required to update the story for the present day. However, forward movement on this project should likely be grassroots, focused on Sam’s family, Dudley’s other siblings, those involved in the 1995 occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park, and finally, the wider Kettle & Stony Point community. This may mean the film becomes participatory, with those with a significant stake in the story collaborating on its content.

Status: Unfinished; In production; Funding: Self-Funded, Ontario Arts Council, Indiegogo Crowdfunding; Future Funding Ideas: Broadcast licenses and film grants