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.

Two focus group sessions with the Chief & Council of the Kettle & Stony Point First Nation generated knowledge which would help inform the content of the beach walk.

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 a 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 Ipperwash Beach Walk uses interactive content such as sliders to educate users about how Ipperwash Beach became a tourist destination.
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 Ins-Situ Data Stories platform utilizes GPS to detect a user’s location.

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 soon 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)

From 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 archival research. The research focused 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. Lawyer Murray Klippenstein put a strong emphasis on both the research and the resulting footage being legally and factually accurate.

The project resulted in almost 20 historical recreations being filmed. Community members from the Kettle & Stony Point First Nation participated as actors in the recreations. The entire project was guided by Sam George, and after his passing, his wife Veronica George. 

Unfortunately, funding for post-production on the film eventually ran out and the film was never finished. On the bright side, the footage is available to be re-purposed into future projects, with the stipulation that it remains true to its original intent — to be 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

The Ipperwash Inquiry

Docu-Series
(2002-Present)

LOG LINE:                

This real-life whodunit examines the mountains of evidence from a contentious police operation that went tragically wrong; one that politicians, police officers, and witnesses have spent the last 25 years accusing each other in an effort to cover up.

THE STORY:            

The official press release from the Ontario Provincial Police claimed officers were “returning fire” when a riot squad and sniper team confronted a group of Indigenous land protectors in the dark. Twenty-five years after the “Ipperwash Crisis,” we dig deep into the skeletons unearthed by the public inquiry tasked to investigate the controversial police shooting death of Anthony “Dudley” George at Ipperwash Provincial Park. The deeper we dig, the more past, present, and future violently collide.

FORMAT:                 

This limited six-part, hour-long documentary series uses a true-crime format that is driven by first-hand accounts of some of the key players, including the 150+ witnesses, lawyers and family members who advocated for and participated in the Ipperwash Inquiry. Sit-down interviews drive the story forward with incredible amounts of detail, enhanced by excerpts of testimony and audio-visual exhibits from the Inquiry hearings.

STYLE:                     

Provocative without being sensational, this series is targeted to a wide audience. It explores the known facts of all sides of the “Ipperwash Crisis,” searching for truth in a conflict that pits colonial views about natural resources and the law against Indigenous ways of being.

Audio and video exhibits, stock footage, newspaper headlines, archival photos, data visualization, and simple recreations help to tell the “colonized” version of the story, while spectacular aerial shots, cinema verite footage and brilliantly coloured animations help tell the alternate “de-colonized” perspective. The two opposing styles are tied together through maps and counter-mapping; satellite imagery is used frequently, with words in the Anishinaabemowin language overlaid on top.

Ultimately, this is a social and cultural documentary masked as a true-crime series. The deeper we dig into the evidence of a complex case of wrongful death, the more we learn about how North America was colonized and about the entangled relationship between the Indigenous people and settlers who call it home.

STRUCTURE:          

This series swings back and forth between tense, factual storytelling with a grim tone and slower-paced Indigenous storytelling with a hopeful tone. Over six episodes, it connects the dots between history and present-day by bouncing between “white man’s law” and the lies told in the mainstream media, and the Indigenous version of the truth. Episode 1 is a backgrounder to the crime, while Episode 2 explains how the family’s civil lawsuit influenced the government to call a public inquiry. Episode 3 explores the Indigenous witnesses’ testimony, while Episode 4 focuses on the evidence of the politicians who witnessed the infamous “Dining Room Meeting.” Episode 5 pivots towards the statements of the barrage of police officers who participated in the fatal confrontation, while Episode 6 revisits controversial evidence the mainstream media missed while covering the hearings.

PERSONAL STORY:   

Maynard “Sam” George and his family value laughter and humour as a coping mechanism. Although the Kettle & Stony Point First Nation community has been through layers of trauma associated with land loss and the shooting death of Sam’s brother, Dudley, the family is determined to bring healing to those that still may be suffering. They believe the truth about the shooting will help the community to heal and have invited filmmaker Monica Virtue into their home for the past 17 years -– six of those filming with Sam before he passed away from cancer -– in the hope the story will reach a wide audience.

Status: Unfinished; In development; Funding: Self-Funded, Ontario Arts Council, Indiegogo Crowdfunding; Future Funding Ideas: Content licenses and/or grants