By Cory Bilyea
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
SAUGEEN- A long and exhausting land claim dispute has been decided, and the outcome is much different this time.
Indigenous land claim disputes have generally been ignored and delayed for decades. Ultimately, the challenges are undecided because an admission of wrongdoing must be made to make that kind of decision.
The Chippewas of Saugeen began their battle for the highly popular and coveted 2.5-kilometre stretch of Sauble Beach in 1995, alleging that the Crown failed to protect the band’s rights to the land as promised when the treaty was signed in 1854.
In what’s being called a “landmark decision,” Saugeen has rightfully taken back ownership of some of the land that was initially promised through the treaty process of the colonization of this area, but the battle is not over yet.
The Township of South Bruce Peninsula is still determining if they will appeal the decision, the current mayor said, saying that they need more information to resolve this unprecedented situation.
“This is a complex issue that requires time to formalize a position. Council understands how important this issue is to the town and thanks all residents in advance for your patience,” said Mayor Garry Michi. “Council will review the decision in detail prior to formally making public comment and considering next steps.”
The township held a closed session of council on April 7 to discuss and take appropriate action on the following:
Litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals affecting the municipality or local board and advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose and a position, plan, procedure, criteria, or instruction to be applied to any negotiations carried on or to be carried on by or on behalf of the municipality or local board (Delegation, Jonathan Lisus, Andrew Winton, Zane Naqi, John Carlo Mastrangelo, Lax, O’Sullivan, Lisus, Gottlieb LLP – Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation v. Town of South Bruce Peninsula et al.)
Litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals affecting the municipality or local board and advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose and a position, plan, procedure, criteria, or instruction to be applied to any negotiations carried on or to be carried on by or on behalf of the municipality or local board (Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation v. Town of South Bruce Peninsula et al.)
Current Chief of Saugeen, Conrad Ritchie, told Midwestern Newspapers in a telephone interview that there is no transition period, the ownership immediately “changed hands” with the decision, and Saugeen has taken over ownership of the beach.
Directly following the announcement, Saugeen created an ad hoc committee to oversee the immediate and necessary management of the beach.
“The Management Advisory Committee consists of an elder, one youth and our lands management, and economic development officer and maybe one or two councillors,” said Ritchie. “And that’s going to be the team that will strategize and provide recommendations to the council.”
Because of the announcement’s timing, which was overdue according to Ritchie, who said the decision was expected in February, the current thought process is to continue with the “status quo” operations of the famous beach.
However, moving ahead, there are many topics of discussion regarding compensation, working together with South Bruce Peninsula to iron out the fine details regarding the future of Sauble Beach.
Ritchie said, “There’s going to have to be some kind of plan that’s going to have to take place, because of maintenance and waste management, maybe even security, all the things that will have a fee. There has to be some kind of revenue that’s generated from there to look after all the things that come to the area. And I don’t think realistically that will be worked out by the time summer is here. So, I think for the most part, in the interim, we might have to work with Sauble Beach for this summer and maybe change the plans for next year.”
A joint statement in 2004 from former Chief of Saugeen Vernon Roote and former Chief of Nawash Ralph Akiwenzie said, “On Oct. 13, 1854, our ancestors signed a treaty with the Crown in Canada. By that treaty, we lost some 500,000 acres in the Bruce Peninsula but reserved land, including lands still home to the Chippewas of Saugeen and the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. We have been here a long time. Now, as we struggle for survival in our own homeland, is it so surprising that we seek redress for events that have caused us and our lands harm? Is it so surprising that we now work to defend the environmental integrity of our traditional territories?
“Treaty 72 is flawed. Crown negotiators threatened to proceed regardless of the wishes of our ancestors. They significantly misrepresented the benefits of the treaty for our First Nations They claimed they were unable (or unwilling) to protect Native lands from encroachment by settlers and therefore urged us to surrender our lands.
“And so, we seek compensation in land and money for the harm this treaty has done to our people, our communities and the land itself.”
Ritchie thanked the former chiefs and all involved in the 28-year battle to reclaim the land.
“We just inherited some of that work, and continued it, but it was stimulated back in 1995. There were a lot of leaders who pushed for that,” he said.
Saugeen is planning a celebration on the May 24 weekend at the beach where all can come out to rejoice in this victory, honouring those who fought the battle and begin a new and exciting chapter in the history books where the Original People are finally recognized as the caretakers of this land.
Cory Bilyea is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with WINGHAM ADVANCE TIMES. LJI is a federally funded program.