Exclusive Aboriginal and treaty rights
The Saugeen Ojibway Nation is restating it has exclusive Aboriginal and treaty rights to its territory over concerns that the Historic Saugeen Metis organization may be claiming similar rights. According to SON, which is made up of the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation and the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, a treaty or formal agreement between the SON and HSM to share the territory does not exist and any such claims are unjustifiable. Michael Johnston, manager of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation Environment Office, said Wednesday that SON takes such claims very seriously and will work hard to protect their rights. “Who we are we define largely by our territory, so absent of the land we wouldn’t be who we are,” Johnston said. “We have a land claim that will be going to trial in the spring, so claims by other indigenous groups to have some measure of rights in our territory can vitiate our own claim in front of the Crown.”
Last week, SON released a letter attributed to Nawash chief Greg Nadjiwon and Saugeen acting chief Randal Roote addressing the claims by HSM and “clarifying the historical record.”
“HSM’s claims to the public, to industry proponents, and to provincial and federal government agencies are serious misrepresentations of indisputable historical facts,” the letter states. Johnston said he doesn’t believe the HSM has an existing land claim in front of the Crown, but has been making territorial claims to others in the area, including major employers and government ministries.
“I get the sense that they are trying to create some ground facts and we would like the record to remain clear and substantiated,” said Johnston. Attempts to reach HSM officials were unsuccessful as of press time.
The HSM, whose offices are based in Southampton, calls itself an independent historic Metis community, whose geographic scope covers about 275 kilometres of shoreline from Tobermory to south of Goderich and includes Grey, Bruce and Huron counties.
SON’s traditional territory covers the same area, and their Aboriginal and treaty rights in that territory have been recognized by the courts multiple times, according to its letter.
SON says it holds exclusive rights across the vast majority of the lands and waters of the territory, acknowledging overlaps in the Goderich and Collingwood areas with neighbouring First Nations.
“Apart from these areas of shared interests, however, SON considers itself the only rights-bearing Aboriginal group in our Territory,” the letter states. Johnston said the courts have established that when a group wants to make a valid claim, it must show it has exclusive control of the territory, and shared lands would not pass that test, which is what makes holding exclusive rights so important to SON.
“We could not claim title to our territory if in fact that territory is shared with some other people,” said Johnston. “This has a very practical importance to us in that we are going to court in the spring to demonstrate the fact that we are the exclusive controllers of our traditional territory and claims by other people that we shared this land, we suspect or fear would weaken our claim in front of the court.” Johnston said SON, and the environment office in particular, have it within their mission to protect and manage the environment within its territory. Their capacity to do that is limited by how much control they have over projects or initiatives that happen within the territory, which is why ensuring exclusive consultation is so important to SON.
“Other indigenous groups who want to be consulted will raise their voice and say we want to be consulted because we have rights or interests in this territory, but their interests don’t always align with ours,” said Johnston.
“Sometimes the things that other groups would agree to, we would not.”
The letter also goes into detail to “clarify” the historical record regarding the Piche Wampum, of which the HSM is marking the 200th anniversary. The group, which holds its Metis Rendezvous in Southampton each August, considers the wampum an important piece of their history in the region. According to the HSM, a string of wampum beads was presented to trader Pierre Piche as a “tangible reminder, an enduring record,” of an agreement by the Ojibwe to share the resources of the the Saugeen territory and share in the protection of the environment for the benefit of both aboriginal peoples. “From time immemorial, aboriginal people have considered any agreement made or entered into, when accompanied by wampum, as binding as a written agreement or treaty,” it states on the HSM website. “Traditionally, the local Metis have lived in, cared for and relied on the traditional Saugeen territory for sustenance, and have considered the Wampum relationship with the local Ojibwe as enduring as the day the words were spoken.”
But in its letter, SON says the wampum beads “were simply personal possessions passed between individuals.”
According to the letter, the significance and chain-ofownership of the 12 strings of wampum is recorded by its last private owner (Frederick Lamorandiere) in the Ontario Minister of Education’s 1904 Annual Archaeological Report.
The letter states that Piche married a woman from Saugeen in about 1818 and they had no children. Piche’s wife was cared for later in life by Augustine Grandeville, a Red River Metis woman who had relocated to Saugeen, and as gratitude for this end-of-life caregiving, she gave Grandeville the strings of wampum, saying that they would entitle her to Mrs. Piche’s one share of Saugeen lands. Grandville in turn gave the wampum beads to her youngest daughter, who married Lamorandiere from Cape Croker. Upon her death, Lamorandiere gave the wampum strings to the Ontario Provincial Museum as “a memento of the old times.”
“Since there was never an exchange between Aboriginal groups nor did the Piches have any Metis children – there is no genealogical connection between fur trader Piche and his Saugeen wife, and today’s self-identifying Metis,” the letter states. Johnston said the wampum was simply a gift at the time, and even the claim that the beads entitled Grandville to a share of the lands is suspect.
“Traditional lands are held in common. We don’t have the simple ownership as you would outside,” said Johnston. “It is a collective ownership, so any such transfer of land rights — which we would describe as land obligations — any transfer of those would have to be vetted by the community or community leaders and there is no evidence that any of that took place.” Johnston said there is a legal test for Metis status and a legal test for making aboriginal title claim and SON invites the HSM to make either of those claims in front of a court and support it with evidence.
“We didn’t release this letter to be incendiary in any way, we are not trying to incite anything and we are not against anybody self-identifying,” said Johnston. “It is when somebody comes into our territory and claims rather 11th-hour that they have rights in our territory that impact our own rights and interests that we felt a need to speak out and correct the record that was being presented.”