It is widely recognized that the Saugeen Ojibway occupied and utilized a land base of about 2 million acres before the arrival of the British. The area was loosely defined as a point presently known as the Town of Arthur and extending west to Lake Huron and north to Georgian Bay. It is in this context that the Royal Proclamation of 1763 was created to protect lands occupied by First Nations of North America. The Proclamation was intended to halt or at least decelerate the advance of Euro settlement. It established strict rules for the purchase and surrender of native lands with the Crown.
Nevertheless, white encroachment and the promise of a landbase on Manitoulin Island by Sir Francis Bond, Head and Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada at the time convinced the Saugeen Ojibway to surrender all lands south of Owen Sound. In 1836 the Saugeen Ojibway signed the treaty No. 45 1/2 and proceeded to surrender 1.5 million acres of “the very richest land of Upper Canada.” The intrusion of Euro settlers did not diminish and in 1847 it was necessary for Queen Victoria to issue a Royal Declaration. The Declaration confirmed the land of the Saugeen Ojibway as being the Saugeen Peninsula (a.k.a. Bruce Peninsula) as roughly defined by a line between Southampton and Owen Sound as well as any islands within seven miles of the coast.
Three years later in 1850 it was further necessary for the Government of Canada to pass a special “Act” for protection of Indian lands against squatters and loggers. This was called an “Act for the protection of the Indians in Upper Canada from Imposition, and the property occupied or enjoyed by them from trespass and injury.” These legal documents appear to have accomplished little to protect native lands. The following year in 1851 the Government of Canada and the Saugeen Ojibway signed the “Half-Mile Strip Treaty.” An area of over 4,000 acres was surrendered for a road to join Owen Sound and Southampton.
Euro settlement continued to accelerate. The Crown searched for a solution but the best policy they could develop came from Laurence Oliphant, Superintendent General for Indian Affairs who said “it therefore became an obligation upon the Indian Department to wring from those whom it protects some assent, however reluctant. (To surrender their land).”
Oliphant himself “negotiated” Treaty No. 72 in 1854. The Saugeen Ojibway ceded a little less than 500,000 acres of the Saugeen Peninsula. In exchange, the Saugeen Ojibway were to receive proceeds from all-lands sold to be held “in trust” as well as better protection of remaining Reserves from encroachment. The land base remaining consisted of Chief’s point, Saugeen Reserve (Owen Sound), Colpoys Bay Reserve (Big Bay). Cape Croker Indian Reserve No. 27. the Fishing Islands in Lake Huron, Cape Hurd Islands and three islands at the entrance to Colpoys Bay.
The 10,000 acre Nawash Reserve on the west-side of Owen Sound Bay was surrendered in 1857. The residents were supposed to move to Cape Croker but many were reluctant. Four years later in 1861 the Colpoys Bay Reserve of 6,000 acres was surrendered and although a few did move to Cape Croker the majority moved to Christian Island and some to Southampton. Finally, the Fishing Islands and Cape Hurd Islands of Lake Huron as well as Griffith, Hay and White Cloud Islands on Georgian Bay were also surrendered from 1885 to 1899. To complete the chronological changes in land base approximately 90 fishing islands in Lake Huron were returned to the Saugeen Ojibway in 1968.
Cape Croker Indian Reserve like every settlement on the planet is consistently changing and was officially named “Neyaashiinigmiing” on January 21, 1992. It means “point of land surrounded on three side by water.”
A reserve is a land set aside for the entire Band Membership. Some lots are generally issued a Certificate of Possession (C.P.) as legal evidence of allocation. At one point in time the legal instrument of allocation was a Certificate of Location or Location Ticket. Consequently, C.P. holders are sometimes referred to archaically as locatees. Land not allocated is usually referred to as unallocated lands or Band lands in some cases. However, all land forming a reserve is ultimately communal in nature.
Total land base for Neyaashiinigmiing Indian Reserve No. 27 is 6,253 hectares or about 15,451 acres. Band lands are estimated at 4,035 hectares (64%) while allocated lands are about 2,218 hectares (36%). The bluffs entering the reserve dominate the boundary with Albemarle Township and occupy a significant 607 hectares (1,500 acres). The bluffs are surrounded by a rocky talus and drops down to a flatter plain which then descends to the lower community leading toward Little North Bay and the Lighthouse. The peninsula-shaped nature of the land base makes a shoreline of approximately 48 km (30 miles) along Georgian Bay.
In 1997 the population of individuals residing on the Chippewas of Nawash reserve was 700. The population is roughly the same in 2000. The Band roll, however, has approximately 2080 on the list.
Economics and History
In the early 1900's religious organizations were very aggressive to convert Indians to Christianity. In particular the Methodists highly supported a life of farming as opposed to hunting and fishing. In 1883 an Indian Agent was assigned to Cape Croker who promoted agriculture. In these early times, timbering was also important for the peninsula. Sawmills were located in Colpoys Bay and Wiarton. Fishing was a resource base source of food and income. But as the Greatest Depression approached even abundant fish resources could not shield the community from economic hardships. Great Depression of the 1930's was universal. Work was not to be found on or off reserve. Farmers could produce crops but profit levels were miniscule if attainable. Fish prices were low and the timber days were over.
As the 30's turned into the 40's there was still a local market for fish but the start of World War II changed the labour force dramatically. A total of 102 Band Members enlisted. Six were members of the Canadian Women's Army Corps (C.W.A.C.). Seven were killed and twenty wounded. Comparatively, 57 enlisted in World War I. Six were killed and fourteen wounded. When the war ended and Band members returned to their community there was little opportunity. One or two took advantage of a program by the federal government to begin farming with the assistance of a small grant. Once again, however, the business of farming grew more difficult every year with improving technology. By 1966 only one farm remained on Cape Croker.
Commercial Fishing was equally difficult. The sea lamprey was devastating the lake trout population throughout the Great Lakes in the late 30's, 40's and 50's. Larger boats were needed to chase depleting fish stocks. Few could afford the business on any scale. Timber was still a resource at Cape Croker but only provided occasional income. By the 1960's farming, fishing and timbering could not provide the employment needed for growing a community.
The 60's were a period of focus for the Band, because job opportunities in the traditional resource sectors were limited, other opportunities were explored. Initially there was a proposal to mine dolomite and another proposal to establish a manufacturing centre for the Lovable Brassier Company. Nothing became of either project although the Brassier Company did establish in nearby Wiarton where it provided employment for a few women in Cape Croker.
It was not until 1963 that a proposal was developed for the community for a furniture factory in partnership with a businessman from Wiarton. The proposal was to train about thirty individuals for the production of a local design and finish called "semi-rustic" furniture. Cedar was to be used from Band lands. The project was unprecedented for an Indian reserve by July 1967. At about the same time in 1965 one band member began a silk screen business. It developed a good market in urban areas and operated for about five months. The business was basically family run and it became too difficult after a few family members had to leave the community to return to school.