1974 Anicinabe Park Occupation and Anniversary Celebration

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1974 Anicinabe Park Occupation and Anniversary Celebration

While I posted about the 1974 Anicinabe Park Occupation in Kenora elsewhere I feel it deserves its own thread.

In 1974 I had just read Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, when I set out to drive a motorcycle from Ottawa to Vancouver. In Thunder Bay I met two Americans heading for Alaska so we travelled together for a week. 

When we reached Kenora we camped outside of town and went to a bar in the centre of Kenora at night. As soon as we entered it was obvious that there was an unofficial line splitting the bar into the white and native sides. We sat near the border between the two groups. With our motorcyle leathers on, it was obvious from the strong glares we were getting that we were considered "biker's" by the redneck whites. Perhaps because of that, one of the First Nations came over and started talking to us. Over time, quite a few others joined us. 

They told us that some of the young First Nations had occupied Anicinabe Park on the outskirts of town and that they had help from the American Indian Movement (AIM). Their were demands were better living conditions, education and access to land. They told us that the park land had been stolen from them 25 years before without the town even bothering to go through a legal process. They also warned us that the RCMP had road blocks up to prevent other First Nations from joining them. Sure enough, when we headed back to our camp we were stopped by the RCMP. They asked if we were gun-running "to the Indians".  Perhaps they thought that was the only reason we would be talking to First Nations in a bar under these circumstances. 

The next day we crossed the border from northern Ontario into Manitoba. We stopped at a gas station and asked if they minded if we could change the oil in our bikes at the side of the station. "No problem and we'll even give you a pan to change your oil."

One of the two attendants stuck around as we changed our oil talking to us in a friendly manner until he brought up " the local Native problem". He said the gas station had a small convenience store attached to it and some First Nations people came to the store to buy vanilla extract for the alcohol in it when they couldn't get it any other way. So two weeks before they had decided to stop selling it to them. His co-worker came over to back up the story. So we asked what happened. They said they were waiting with a rifle sticking out the door and pistol sticking out the window whenever a car or truck full of "Indians" drove up. We left as quickly as possible. 

On my trip back from Vancouver to Ottawa a couple of months later, I stopped in Kenora again where I met a man who was half Native and half Black, according to him the only one in Kenora. When we tried to go to a bar together, the bartenders in several bars said although I could come in, he was repeatedly not allowed to enter without being offered any explanation, so I left with him. 


Here's some more information on the Anicinabe Park Occupation and its 40th anniversary celebration.

Participants in the 1974 armed occupation of Anicinabe Park, near Kenora, Ontario. Participants in the 1974 armed occupation of Anicinabe Park, near Kenora, Ontario.







The local newspaper in Kenora played quite a role in fanning the flames of racial hatred during the six week occupation of Anicinabe Park. 


When the Ojibway Warrior Society seized control of municipally run Anicinabe Park in Kenora, Ontario, during the summer of 1974, leading to a six-week standoff, nearly all racial hell broke loose, according to local press reports. On the one hand, armed aboriginals did take control of the ten-acre park, a piece of property the group immediately laid claim to, arguing that the land had been effectively stolen from them decades earlier.

On the other hand, the local Kenora daily Miner & News represented the story as one of a classic struggle between civilization and barbarism, a colonial encounter with white town folk cast in the blameless role of aggrieved victims while natives were portrayed in three basic, hackneyed, frequently cross-pollinating image streams. The stereotyping made little distinction between or among local aboriginal people, members of the Warrior Society, or hundreds of other discrete Canadian native groups.

The borders of each of these constructions, which we will explore in this paper employing discourse analysis, remained porous, frequently overlapping throughout 1974. However, local press representations of aboriginals during 1974 in the months leading up to the park's seizure were decidedly more moderate in tone than during the standoff, which began in mid-July and lasted till late August. Then, in the weeks following the peaceful resolution to the event (though not necessarily the various issues raised by it), local news coverage generally resumed its paternalistically colonial pre-seizure character. 

In the first instance, the newspaper cast all natives—including First Nations, Métis, Inuit—qua barbarians, essentialized savages, and as morally insensate, as if they had stepped straight out of an old-fashioned Hollywood Western, exemplifying untrustworthy behavior (at best) or swimming in a sea of violence and mayhem (at worst). Second, the newspaper depicted aboriginals as hapless, ungovernable drunkards. According to this portrayal, they could no more govern their base instincts than they could effectively manage their day-to-day affairs living in the later twentieth century. A third casting portrayed natives as exotic wraiths, frequently stoic, a child-like people in need of correction and direction at the same time as they were on the verge of dying off.

Common to this stream was the notion that pitched Canada's natives as a defeated, defanged race that did not have enough sense to know that its own culture—and you will note here the insistence on conflating all indigenous cultures into one moribund monolith—was as good as dead. These press framings open a window onto how residents of this small town in central Canada imagined natives as well as how Canadian colonialism has been aided and abetted via press complicity. That is not to say that the local paper accurately or representatively reflected all white opinions in the town or that Kenora stands in for all of Canada. Yet we will argue that such press treatment was quintessentially, colonially Canadian.

A generation of empirical research demonstrates that the news media has the power not simply to establish and patrol the perimeters of public discourse or shape opinions about a topic but actually has the power to engender public opinion directly. Newspapers then play a critical role both in teaching about race yet, at the same time, also cater to and even reflect audience's views. While this relationship is complex and not fully understood, the literature on the topic indicates clearly that the press not only provides frames of explication for readers but also may actually tell an audience what to think.

Moreover, given Kenora's well-established history of discrimination against natives, one might also fairly query whether the local press was simply responding to market demands, in effect giving consumers what they wanted. While this topic has received almost no published study in Canada, a rich and growing body of scholarship, from the path-breaking work of Edward Said through Stuart Hall and others, has identified the press as a central agent in the promulgation of the larger cultural project of colonialism. By exploring the ways in which Kenora's daily newspaper spoke to the deep-seated, endemic, systemic anti-native racism woven into the fabric of Canadian society since its inception as...



There has been some superficial progress in Kenora but when you find out that it took until 2017 for Kenora to rename Colonization Road, built in the 1850s, you know there is a hell of a long way to go. 

Treaty 3 territory, where the city sits, had six different residential schools, with the last one closed in 1974. Two sat not far from Kenora’s bustling downtown business district, which fills up every summer with cottagers. 

The city also has a long history of violence, racial tensions and segregation policies, which sent a message to many of the area’s approximately 25,000 people from the 28 First Nations in Treaty 3: Do not come here.

In the three years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued its report, which included 94 Calls to Action, the idea of reconciliation has permeated meetings, churches, dinner tables and coffee shop talk in the city of about 15,000....

In Kenora, some evidence of that advancement is visible. The Treaty 3 flag flies at city hall. It was raised for the first time, over the summer of 2017, on National Aboriginal Day alongside a traditional ceremony. The flag is meant to symbolize the reaffirmation of the treaty, a city spokesperson said in an email. 

A few months later, Colonization Road — built as part of an 1850s policy to expand European settlements and give settlers access to land that was traditionally used by Indigenous people — was renamed. 

The city plans to have Ojibway translations appear on new signs that it puts up in Kenora. And it arranged cultural sensitivity training for staff by an Indigenous-owned institution. This past August, Kenora's 2020 Strategic Plan was updated to ensure that all Indigenous Peoples were included in the commitment to honouring the 94 Calls to Action, the city spokesperson said. 

But, despite these symbolic changes, some people question whether meaningful reconciliation will come to Kenora anytime soon. ...

The group of friends gathered for tea on a snowy evening at the end of October said that, despite all the talk of reconciliation in Canada, they still face racism, and any real progress seems as insurmountable as the community’s housing crisis. 

While relationships have improved over the last decade, Kakeeway said racism is still accepted when there are no Indigenous people in the room. Her children have lighter skin and they tell her stories about the terrible things that have been said in front of them — and children are often just repeating what they’ve heard at home. ...

Racism is not just behind closed doors.  In August, a justice of the peace made a comment in court that no one there had heard of Benny Hill and when a Mi’kmaw lawyer said she was familiar with the comedian, he replied, “Your ancestors probably scalped him or something.” 

The Criminal Lawyers’ Association made a formal complaint to the Justices of the Peace Review Council. 

Some people in Kenora struggle with their Indigenous identities, and “shame was a result of racism shown by non-Aboriginal people,” according to a report from the Urban Aboriginal Task Force in 2007. 

“Sometimes we were called dirty Indians. We were called names and stuff like that … there was this one family that was very, very racist,” said an anonymous respondent in the report. ...

Last year, the City of Kenora had to declare a state of emergency when the Fellowship Centre — an Indigenous non-profit that helps the homeless and the poor — closed its emergency shelter. It didn’t have the funds or resources to continue housing about 600 people each year. At first, the shelter was going to reopen downtown, but after local residents raised concerns about the new location, city council voted against a zoning amendment that would have allowed the move. ...

In the end, a temporary shelter opened in the basement of the Northwestern Health Unit, out of the downtown. The shelter may be out of sight, but the problems haven’t gone away. ...

“People say they want reconciliation, but they want absolution. They want forgiveness and they want to say, ‘OK we are starting from fresh.’ But until you stop the whole system, the big things, colonization, how can you start from fresh?”




As one of the participants of Anicinabe Leonard Peltier approaches his 45th year of imprisonment for his continuing fight against settler-colonialism it is good to recall this. Thanks for the memories jerrym...




Yes, great memories - thank you, jerrym. Shows how very far we still have to go.