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Two land claims before the courts discussed at press conference in Owen Sound

Chief Lester Anoquot, Chief Greg Nadjiwon, Cathy Guirguis

Chief Lester Anoquot of Saugeen First Nation (left) and Chief Greg Nadjiwon of Neyaashiinigmiing Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation (right), along with Cathy Guirguis, legal counsel for Saugeen Ojibway Nation (centre) held a press conference in Owen Sound on May 6.


BY KIERA MERRIAM FOR SOUTHGREY.CA — On May 6, members of the press and listeners to CFOS had a chance to hear from Saugeen Ojibway Nation's (SON) Chief Lester Anoquot of Saugeen First Nation and Chief Greg Nadjiwon of Neyaashiinigmiing Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, along with Cathy Guirguis, legal counsel for SON, concerning two claims currently before the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto.

The three were guests on 'Mondays with Murdoch' a call in radio show with host, former Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch. The program was followed by a press conference in the CFOS board room.

Guirguis started by explaining the two claims. The first of which, originally filed in 1994, is a treaty claim concerning a portion of SON's traditional territory north of Highway 21, Treaty 72, when in 1854 the Crown sought surrender of the peninsula from SON. The claim alleges that the manner in which the Crown did so was breaking a promise to SON to protect those lands on the peninsula. "They had a duty to act in the best interest of Saugeen Ojibway," she later added.

Guirguis explained that the claim seeks a righting of that wrong by way of Crown lands on the peninsula as well as compensation. Crown lands include any land that is currently held by Ontario or Canada such as park lands, public lands as well as publicly held rivers and lakes.

The compensation that's being sought, in the amount of $80 billion plus $10 billion in punitive damages, Guirguis said, is about the loss of use and the loss of benefits that SON would have received had those lands never been surrendered.

The amount is an estimate, "a place holder," she explained, to later talk about the value that was lost to SON as a result.

The second claim, originally filed in 2003, is an aboriginal title claim that seeks property rights to the lake beds of parts of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron under Treaty 45 1/2, the southern portion of SON's traditional territory.

Aboriginal title is an aboriginal right that's protected under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, explained Guirguis. "So that title claim is basically seeking a property right to the lake beds of parts of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, those parts that make up the traditional homelands and territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation," Guirguis said, later clarifying that no dry land in Treaty 45 1/2 is subject to the aboriginal title claim.

Concerning rights of individual property owners, Chief Anoquot said that currently there is a duty to consult First Nations concerning projects and development with a larger environmental footprint, such as energy projects. "I don't see the Saugeen Ojibway in particular having a huge impact on the developments that want to be held privately," he said.

Guirguis explained that the Treaty 72 claim excludes any lands that have been purchased by a third party. "The Saugeen Ojibway Nation has excluded from the claim entirely any lands that have been bought with value, somebody has paid money for those lands, and did not have notice of the claim," she said. "So anything before 1994, all lands that were purchased by third parties for good consideration for money," Guirguis said.

She also explained that municipalities are named as defendants in the Treaty 72 claim, and while financial compensation is only being sought from Ontario and Canada and not from the municipalities, municipalities do currently hold title to lands that they didn't purchase, such as road allowances and shore road allowances. "So since they didn't buy that [land], they were given those by the Crown through statute, those lands are also subject to the [Treaty 72] claim," she said.

Some concerns were expressed by callers and Murdoch himself around fishing and lake management to which Chief Anoquot clarified that it isn't an issue of total control or absolute ownership but one of co-management, conservation and stewardship of the land, as is currently the case. Similarly with the Bruce Peninsula National Park, which is within Treaty 72 territory, Anoquot said a committee is currently working toward a co-management prospect with the park.

Chief Nadjiwon clarified that SON doesn't have to win the Treaty 72 claim in order to be involved in lake management. "As utilizing traditional knowledge we have to be part and parcel of any management process," he said. "I'll go further, that anything that affects inherent [aboriginal] rights is a real issue," he said. "We're dealing with that on a week to week, day by day basis," he added.

In terms of aboriginal rights, Guirguis said that like any other right, it's constitutionally protected. "You have priority but you don't necessarily have full jurisdiction and control," she said, adding that the government has regulations and rules and laws but it also has a right to accommodate.

In response to one caller in particular, Chief Anoquot noted a lack of understanding in the treaty process. "This is basically a history lesson and it's not about the Saugeen Ojibway wanting exclusivity and shutting people out," he said. "I would hope that the fellow that called in would understand it's not about 'it's my sandbox and my sandbox only', it's a shared resource."

Chief Nadjiwon reiterated a point he had made earlier that Indigenous history should be part of every learning institution in the country and the fact that it isn't, has created animosity and undue hardship. "The Indigenous history and the treaty making process and the agreements has to be put into the schools so people have a true understanding of how history unfolded," he said.

Guirguis commended the chiefs for their response and said that at the heart, the two claims are not about excluding anyone but rather about the Crown making good on promises that were made. "Seeing justice done and somehow through our courts and through the process... to recognize that the relationship that the Saugeen Ojibway Nation had, still has, and will have in the future to its entire territory."

Anoquot said that SON's legacy is one of exclusion. "We've been excluded from these conversations for such a long time and not being able to access lawyers for such a long time, it's not up until just recently that we've actually been able to push things forward," he said.

"It's not about re-writing the wrongs of history and excluding the general public from that process, actually it's quite the opposite, we're looking at being more inclusive," said Anoquot.

"I believe in sharing the resources and utilizing the resources in the best manner available," Nadjiwon said. "We were always on the outside looking in and that is what we're insisting is going to change," he said.

In the board room following the show, Guerguis talked about plans moving forward. The trial is set to resume May 13 at Saugeen First Nation. The week will begin with a sunrise ceremony at 6 a.m., then testimony from community members will take place.

"Some of the elders that have witnessed some of the changes over the years so they can put things in perspective from a historical point of view," said Chief Anoquot, adding that the impact of being excluded from the economy is one of the issues being addressed.

The trial began April 25 in Toronto and testimony was heard at Neyaashiinigmiing Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation the week of April 29. Chief Nadjiwon said that now that the trial has begun it's a little unnerving but a good feeling. "It's good to know that we've finally come to the place after 20 years of digging to put everything in place," he said. "On the American dollar it's 'In God we trust,' in this situation it's 'in our research we trust.'"

In relation to some of the response they received during the radio program, Nadjiwon acknowledged that it's "stirred the hornet's nest, so to speak."

"It's been a campaign of educating the general public," said Anoquot. "If you're excluded from telling your story then a different story is told," he said, adding that the history books aren't accurate in their portrayal of the history in the area.

"I mean we certainly have a narrative that's probably not one that everyone wants to read but it's one of reality, of what we've faced over the years," he said.

Following testimony from community members at Saugeen First Nation next week, the case is back in Toronto following the long weekend where it will start to hear from experts including ethno, history and anthropology.

The case could take two to three years to complete.


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Updated March 12, 2020.

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