Exclusive Abo­rig­i­nal and treaty rights

The Goderich Signal-Star - - Opinion -

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.”

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