In October 2020, the trial of two longstanding Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) claims was concluded. The trial considered a claim about SON’s ownership of lands under water, and a claim seeking redress from Canada and Ontario for a broken promise to protect some of SON’s lands.
The trial of both claims began on April 23, 2019, and is being presided over by Justice Wendy Matheson of the Ontario Superior Court.
Closing arguments began on October 19, 2020, and were completed on October 23, 2020. Closings arguments were heard by the Ontario court virtually, due to pandemic restrictions in place restricting attendance numbers inside a courtroom.
SON expects to receive the decision of the court by the end of July 2021. Once that happens, SON will release a summary of the decision with a statement to SON community members, and hold a celebration to mark this historical event (details to be announced).
A Refresher on the Claims
SON is made up of two distinct First Nations – the Saugeen First Nation and the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. The two First Nations launched their claims jointly approximately 20 years ago.
ABORIGINAL TITLE CLAIM
SON’s claim about ownership of lands under water asserts SON’s title to their traditional homelands that were not surrendered by treaty. SON’s traditional homelands includes the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula and about 1.5 million acres of land to the south of it, stretching from Goderich to Collingwood. It also includes the waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron surrounding those lands. SON is asking the court to recognize SON’s ‘Aboriginal title’ to those waters.
Aboriginal title, in Canadian law, is an Indigenous land right that is recognized and protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. While First Nations in Canada have successfully brought court claims about Aboriginal title to lands, this is the first time that the issue of Aboriginal title to waters will be decided by a court.
SON’s second claim is about Treaty 72. In 1836, the British Crown pressed SON to surrender 1.5 million acres of its lands south of Owen Sound. In exchange for those rich farming lands, the Crown made SON an important promise: to protect the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula for SON, forever. 18 years later however, the Crown came back for a surrender of the Peninsula. The Crown said that they could no longer protect SON’s remaining lands from settlers, and pressured the First Nations into signing Treaty 72 in 1854.
SON’s claim is that the Crown could have protected the Peninsula, but instead misled SON in the negotiations of a surrender of the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula. SON’s claim is that this was a breach of the Crown’s fiduciary duty. What SON is seeking is a declaration that the Crown breached this duty. That is the only question that will be answered by the decision. If successful, in a later phase of this claim, SON will be looking for recognition of its ownership interests in lands on the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula that are still owned by Ontario or Canada or have not been bought and paid for by third parties (municipal roads, for example), as well as compensation.
For inquiries, please contact:
Cathy Guirguis, OKT LLP (SON Legal Counsel), email@example.com, 416.629.4545
Councilor Anthony Chegahno, Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief Lester Anoquot, Saugeen First Nation, Lester.Anoquot@saugeen.org
Kurt Kivell, SON Environment Office Communications Manager, email@example.com
Robert Rice, Saugeen Communications Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org