Fed up with the rowdy behavior at a summer campground, members of the Saugeen Ojibway Indian band decided to set up barricades and close the camp down.
About 50 members of the Saugeen First Nation erected the barricades in defiance of a federal court order prohibiting the Native band from closing down Hideaway Campground – a popular party place with young people.
Last year, on Canada’s long weekend in May observing Victoria Day, one man was shot at the campground, another man died at an adjacent overflow camp the next day when he choked on his own vomit.
“We don’t want this lawless behavior in our community. We’ve done this to protect our people,” Saugeen First Nation Chief Randy Roote said.
James Sebastian of Listowel who operates it on leased reserve land refused to comment.
“We’re a sovereign nation and we have a right to say what happens on our land,” Roote said, sitting in a lawn chair where he had spent two nights behind one of the barricades.
The band set up the barricade using huge trees that blocked off a 10-kilometer stretch of County Road 13, one of the main east to west access roads into this Lake Huron beach community. By mid-morning the next day, Anishnabek Police and the Ontario Provincial Police had negotiated moving the barricades to reduce the closed section to about a one-kilometer stretch immediately in front of the camp.
“We’re just here to maintain the peace,” said Anishnabek Sergeant Warren John, sitting in one of half a dozen police vehicles parked about 200 meters from one of the barricades. There was a similar police presence – a mix of provincial and band police – at the other barricade.
The band decided to close down the camp and the adjacent overflow Nawash Camp, run by band members, following the deaths there last Victoria Day weekend and out of concern for the drunken and disorderly behavior that has become the norm there at this time of the year, Roote said.
Through a deal overseen by the federal government Sebastian signed a 20-year-lease on the land with private landowners on the reserve, Roote said.
“It’s in our territory, but our council was not allowed any input into the deal,” Roote said.
The lease has four years to run.
Allan Thompson, 26, of Proton Station south of Collingwood, died after being shot May 20, 2000, during what witnesses described as a dispute over an extra $8 camping fee for camping in the overflow field.
Garry Kewaquom, 56, of Saugeen First Nation, who was charged with second-degree murder in connection with Thompson’s death, is out on bail awaiting trial.
The next day, Charles Therrien, 43, of Mississauga died at Hideaway after choking.
Armed with a court order from Justice John O’Keefe, prohibiting the band from closing him down, Sebastian opened the camp May 18 and had checked in about 50 campers before the barricades went up.
Roote decided to defy the court order after hearing rumors that there may be some sort of retribution for Thompson’s death, he said.
Police charged Roote with breaching the court order and he is to appear in court on June 8.
“I don’t recognize the court’s authority to decide what happens on our land,” said Roote who has been chief of the 700-member band for three years.
Sharon Isaac spent Friday night behind the barricades because she believes closing the camps will make her community on the Saugeen reserve safer for her daughter Kelsey, 7.
“It gets wild here. The parties are uncontrolled and our kids are exposed to drugs and alcohol and even our police feel threatened,” said Isaac as she rolled up sleeping bags used to keep the band members warm overnight.
By the end of the weekend, the 50 or so campers who got into Hideaway before the barricades went up had left, said Sergeant William Sayers of the Anishnabek Police.
That was a far cry from the usual 1,600 campers who crowd into the camp on the May long weekend.
“It’s boring in here, we’re leaving,” one young man had shouted from across the fence inside the campground as he and two others started taking down their tent.
The barricades were taken down, but about half a dozen band members continued their vigil at the camp gates.
Roote said the band members would stay until they were sure the camp wouldn’t reopen as soon as they turned their backs.
Sayers said there were no problems at barricades.
“Everything went very well, there was no trouble at all.”