Saugeen Land Claim: What It Is, Why It Matters

Demystifying a historic land claim in the heart of southern Ontario’s outdoor playground.

words & photo: Scott Parent.

There are currently two actions before the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice between the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) and Her Majesty the Queen and the Attorney General of Canada.

First Action

First, the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation and Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation (collectively the SON) are asserting their Aboriginal title to their territorial waters in a lakebed water title claim, petitioning the Crown to recognize their historic and modern responsibility of these waterways. Ultimately this recognition would solidify their rightful connection, braiding together their way of life, culture and economy.

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Saugeen-Land-Claim-What-It-Is-Why-It-Matters-Scott-Parent-Bruce-Peninsula-winter
The Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula, Georgian Bay shoreline, Ontario. Photo: Scott Parent

 

Second Action

The second action arises from the Crown’s promise to protect the SON land title forever at Treaty 45 1/2 in 1836. The Crown breached this promise during negotiations of Treaty 72 in 1854—a stain on the Crown—which resulted in the loss of large swathes of remaining SON Territory. Additionally, the SON seeks an order for clarification that Treaty 72 did not extinguish any harvesting rights entitled to SON prior to that treaty, as well as the return of road allowances and lands held by the Crown.

SON Territory encompasses the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula, including 1.5 million acres of land to the south from Goderich to Collingwood, as well as portions of the lake bottom. Only lands pertaining to Treaty 72 are presently before the court, with final arguments made last month.

 

We know now the exponential economic growth model doesn’t account for giving back to the land and water. We also know the water needs a voice now more than ever.

 

Managerial Failures

To the Crown, water is simply a resource to manage. Similarly, the protections for the peninsula prescribed in Treaty 72 were never about protecting the peninsula. They were about protecting privately owned property. We know now the exponential economic growth model doesn’t account for giving back to the land and water. We also know the water needs a voice now more than ever.

Fast forward to 2020. Great Lakes fisheries are a disaster, with historically overfished native populations replaced with non-native species to keep the fishery alive. Excessive development along shorelines, as well as an emphasis on a tourism economy, has left the once-pristine beaches trashed and over-trodden.

These are just a few managerial failures that have resulted in ongoing threats to the lake and its residents. And it’s the result of decades of land and resource management unhinged from any real relationship to the region itself.

Saugeen-Land-Claim-What-It-Is-Why-It-Matters-Scott-map
Map courtesy of SON

Voices of the Saugeen

Inaakonegewin (Anishinaabe law) requires the people to be generous unto others, so long as they abide by the customs when entering territorial jurisdiction and obtain permissions. The Anishinaabek, a law-abiding people when the Crown assumed their territory, have repeatedly sought dialogue and a process of sovereign mutual respect.

 

These are just a few managerial failures that have resulted in ongoing threats to the lake and its residents. And it’s the result of decades of land and resource management unhinged from any real relationship to the region itself.

 

For those who live within the territory, it is time for a new conversation to be had between the SON and those of us who’ve settled here under the provisions of a knavish Crown. For the latter, this conversation starts by listening to the voices of the SON. Discovering the profound relationship the SON share with the region and the waters surrounding the peninsula is a tremendous starting point. We need to shift our perspective on how we view the water, and understand that it is not just a place for recreation or to be exploited. It is the lifeblood of all living things. It permits us to be here.

 

We need to shift our perspective on how we view the water, and understand that it is not just a place for recreation or to be exploited.

 

These actions before the court are a petition to return to good governance of land and water management—something we could all benefit from. I’d like to think of it as a resurgence of Inaakonegewin. I think we could all be a little more generous toward each other and especially to the gracious hosts of the Saugeen Peninsula.

Find updates on the title claim here.

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