SON Traditional Territory (Image supplied by SON)
The Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s multi-billion-dollar peninsula land claim and aboriginal title waterbed claim, which go to trial Thursday, will include hearings at Saugeen and Neyaashiinigmiing.The trial begins in Toronto and most of the 200-plus days scheduled to complete it will be done there.But hearings will move to the Cape Croker Community Centre April 29 to May 3 at Neyaashiinigmiing, and to the James Mason Memorial Cultural & Recreational Centre May 13 to 17, at Saugeen First Nation, a news release from SON said Wednesday.On Tuesday Chief Greg Nadjiwon, of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceeded First Nation, where the first local hearings will be held, said he was feeling “positive” about the claim.It seeks $80 billion in compensation, plus $10 billion in punitive damages, though any compensation and damages would be considered in a separate, subsequent hearing, SON lawyer Cathy Guirguis said Tuesday.The SON news release says it will take two to three years to complete the trial, much longer than Nadjiwon’s estimate the day before of possibly 12 to 16 months.There are two parts to the SON legal action.First there’s a Bruce Peninsula land claim based on an alleged breach of fiduciary duty by the Crown in its handling of former Saugeen Ojibwa lands since 1854, when Treaty 72 was signed and most of the peninsula was opened to non-aboriginal settlement.SON’s claim seeks the return of the approximately 10 per cent of land on the peninsula still owned by the Crown, including the national park, all lake and rivers, road and shore allowances, and compensation for loss of use of the land and in lieu of privately held land. No private land is claimed.It will argue Treaty 72 wasn’t fair to the First Nations and that the Crown accepted a duty to protect the Saugeen Peninsula (now known as the Bruce Peninsula). SON signed Treaty 72 in return for reserve lands and for the proceeds of the sale of the rest of the land. The claim alleges the Crown breached those obligations.The second part of the claim, brought in 2003 and merged with the original 1994 peninsula claim, seeks aboriginal title to portions of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay waterbeds in the full traditional territory from Tobermory to Goderich to Collingwood.It includes no dry land, just the portions of waters offshore of those lands that are claimed. No inland lake beds or riverbeds in the SON traditional territory are claimed, other than some on the peninsula if they are Crown lands and subject to the Treaty 72 claim, Guirguis said.If successful, this aboriginal title claim would give SON control of the surface and exclusive fishing rights and over who uses those lands. It also seeks government revenues received from the land.Treaties between the Crown and SON don’t mention lakes or waterbeds in the territory claimed, so the SON views them as theirs.That’s based on their ancestors’ exclusive occupation of the area before the assertion of British sovereignty in the 1760s, and that SON never gave up its land rights in the territory, according to a 2016 newsletter updating the SON community about the legal action, which Guirguis and her law firm helped prepare.