Ontario court rules against Saugeen Ojibway Nation claim to land, Lake Huron lakebed

Leaders with the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) are expressing disappointment Friday following a court decision about their rights to millions of acres of land and lakebed stretching from Tobermory to Goderich, Ont.

Following a year-and-a-half long trial, Justice Wendy Matheson of the Ontario Superior Court decided that SON does not hold title to the waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay that border their territory.

It’s a precedent-setting decision, being the first time the Aboriginal title to waters has been decided by a Canadian court.

“The lakebed claim, obviously would have had ramifications across Canada, had it been a favourable decision. Our traditional teachings and our ancestors have told us that we’ve been here since time immemorial. If not, even archaeological digs have demonstrated that we’ve been here occupying the territory for 3,000 to 5,000 years,” says Saugeen First Nation Chief Lester Anoquot.

Anoquot, along with the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, brought the water and land claim.

The court did side with the Saugeen Ojibway Nation on its claim the Crown broke a promise to them in 1836.

That’s when SON surrendered 1.5 million acres south of Owen Sound to the Crown, in exchange for a promise the Crown would protect the entire Bruce Peninsula for them.

Eighteen years later, the Crown came back for the surrender of the Peninsula. As compensation, SON is seeking $90 billion and recognition of its interests in lands on the peninsula, particularly those owned by the three levels of government.

“We’re not after third party property. We’re not after property that’s already been paid for or property owned. It’s land that was surrendered to the federal government such as road allowances, shorelines and unopened road allowances, as well,” says Anoquot.

Most municipalities in Bruce and Grey counties, named in the court case, are fighting the land claim. But Grey County has settled out of court and neighbouring Saugeen Shores is also working towards a similar solution.

“It’s going to be two years before we even move to phase two after you finish all the legal wrangling. I think we have to get to the point where we say, how much longer are we going to be in this dispute, is there another way to resolve this,” says Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau.

Anoquot couldn’t say if SON will appeal the decision on their claim to the waters surrounding their territory, but says now that the court case has been heard, discussions regarding their water and land claim -- and subsequent compensation -- can proceed with all three levels of government.

“The issue has finally come to fruition. It’s finally been presented to the courts, which is a positive step in the right direction, and I feel as though we can open dialogue, from there,” says Anoquot.