My recent discovery of the creative, literary works of late 19th Century, American author Kate Chopin, most notably her novel, The Awakening, has been a deeply moving and continuously thought-provoking experience. That meets one of the important criteria for a true work of art; and so does speaking so well to readers about what they may be experiencing, as they struggle to find themselves.
It wasn’t only for my own sake, but more especially for my maternal grandmother, Clara, whose tragic life I was reminded of as I read The Awakening and continue to think about it every day. Kate Chopin would have understood perfectly what happened to my grandmother; and would have felt for her. Maybe she is, right now, somewhere, somehow. It may sound strange, but I find consolation for my grandmother’s sake in such thoughts, thanks to Chopin
As a young woman of 28, and mother of two children she dearly loved, my grandmother was desperately unhappy and neglected in her marriage when she dared to fall in love with a married man, famous at the time, 100 years ago. But despite loving her too, he could not face the prospect of living openly in their love, and the consequences it was certain to have for him in the emotionally repressive, post-puritanical, societal norms of the time. That was especially true in the narrow-minded, provincial confines of WASPish (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant), Toronto “the Good” where she lived, or tried to. And it was also true of the U.S. Midwest where he was a church pastor, and a prominent figure in the progressive, social gospel movement.
As it was, the consequences of being a married woman who fell in love with a married man were terrible: a broken heart, the court-ordered loss of her first two children, her desperate abandonment of her love child, my mother, her lonely misery and abject poverty in Montreal for 18 years, and her death from cancer at an early age after her sudden return, alone, to her parental home in Toronto in 1942..
In The Awakening, Chopin’s heroine, Edna Pontellier, raised ‘American’ in Kentucky, is married to Leonce Pontellier, a wealthy member of upper-class, Creole society in Louisiana. She and her husband live in New Orleans, the focal point of the unique, French-based Acadian culture. He’s often away to the north, including New York City and Wall Street, as the story unfolds. Though apparently doting, he cares most about the material trappings of wealth, including what today would be called his ‘trophy wife.’ But she dares to question and ultimately rebel against all that. They have two young children; but Edna rejects the prevailing, social attitude that a woman should always sacrifice her needs for the sake of her children; ‘unessential things,’ yes, but not the soul of her being, as she struggles to discover what that is. She falls in love with a young man who, among other things, teachers her how to swim. That is a crucial, beginning point in her journey of self-discovery, including the awakening of her repressed sensuality. It continues through to the end of the unconsummated relationship with her ‘lover’ who abandons her, “because I love you,” he says in a parting note. Soon after that comes the final and still controversial ending of the novel when Edna, naked and alone on a beach, walks into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. “He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand,” she thinks, as she swims out as far as she can before exhaustion sets in. She had by then already rejected the possibility of other, passing lovers. She thinks fondly of her two young boys, left, apparently happy, in the care of their paternal grandmother in the countryside. But she affirms again her unwillingness to sacrifice herself and live for their sake only.
I confess to being troubled by how Chopin handles that important issue in The Awakening. It needs more attention. A key character in the novel, a happily married woman, tells Edna more than once to not give her children short shrift: “The children, the children!” she says. How Chopin’s heroine may have struggled with that begs for more creative exploration, especially when her two young sons are ultimately described in her apparently final thoughts as ‘antagonists’ seeking to control her life. It’s not hard to imagine how outrageous that must have seemed to many readers at the time, in a society where the role of woman was so locked-in to motherhood.
Speaking personally, being similarly ‘farmed out’ twice by a loving, well-intentioned, single mother to pseudo-foster parents – exploitive and abusive in one case – was a deeply troubling experience. I still struggle with it. There are other cultures in the world that have a more natural, realistic approach to parenting than one that puts all the pressure and responsibility on individual mothers: such things as a greater, shared reliance on both parents, the extended family, and the social group. There are many examples, even in the animal world.
A shallow, perhaps too-obvious interpretation of the ending of The Awakening assumes Edna’s suicide. The last the reader sees of her she has gone as far as she can out into the waters of the Gulf, with no strength left to make it back to shore. But Chopin, deliberately, I think, leaves her fate uncertain. Meanwhile, recollections of childhood memories, including walking through a “blue-grass meadow” with “no beginning and no end” come to Edna’s mind.
I am left with this thought: that Edna’s journey, her ‘Awakening,’ reaches its consummating climax, its ultimate expression of her sensuality-come-alive, in and with the sea. I might have said best would have been to go on living, in some state of love, in the world. But, in all the circumstances, Edna had realized that was not possible, that it could only lead to personal tragedy. Meanwhile, her spiritual and sensual reunion with the sea, is love, timeless and complete.
It’s also a testament to Chopin’s literary genius: to have written such a powerful scene in such a book on such a theme, in 1899, in the U.S. Midwest.
And yet, what an injustice, that The Awakening was widely condemned after its publication. Chopin was shunned in the St. Louis, Missouri community where she lived at the time. She had been born there, but married a Creole man herself, moved to Louisiana, and had six children. She, with her children, moved back to St. Louis after her husband died to look after her sick mother. She began writing in the 1890s as a way of overcoming depression after her mother died. She soon made a name for herself as a regional (Acadian) writer. But after the bad reaction to The Awakening, her further works were largely rejected. She died five years later and was virtually forgotten for 70 years. Now she is a regarded as a forerunner of the modern feminist movement. The Awakening and her short stories are required reading in literary studies.
But with all due respect to feminism, and her courageous contribution to it, any label, be it ‘regional writer’ or ‘feminist,’ diminishes her even now: Kate Chopin speaks of the human spirit in all its wonderful, though often tragic, complexity. There was much more she could have said, in the years before and after The Awakening, had she found her wings sooner. It is not quite a great novel, by a writer who clearly had it in her to be great.
There was a profound stillness in the air this sunrise, mid-March morning as we walked to my prayerful touchstone beside Cathedral Drive, the dogs and I, doing what we do every morning of every day.
But this morning was different in its mysterious way, though perhaps only ‘mysterious’ to certain disconnected mortals; otherwise, I think it’s fair to say there is a great cry of joy gathering and stirring in the woods, as the ‘sweet liqueur’ of life, as Chaucer would say, begins to rise with the sun. Under the still-deep, snow cover that remains, an infinite murmuring of countless awakening creatures, small and large. And above the old pasture across the road, the rising sun has conjured up a fine mist that speaks to how precious this moment is.
Buddy and Sophie in their canine way are well aware and join the celebration, as they run about, stopping here and there to savour the deliciously rich, rising plenitude of refreshed aromas. Ah, the joy of innocence! Whereas the best I can do is write a few, imagined words, take photos of the happy, sunrise woods, and wonder what it must be like to be a tree on a morning such as this.
But that, at least, is something worthy and hopeful after all, the Great Mystery says, by way of consolation.
And, for the moment, I treasure that blessing. It is reason enough to give thanks.
As the headline suggests, I soon had a welcoming, friendly, attitude toward the mating pair of ravens who found a home in my 125-year-old bank barn a couple of years ago.
The barn was obviously a perfect place for the big, black, intelligent, talkative, playful birds. They came and went through an opening high up on the south side of the barn where a couple of boards had come loose. (For all I know, as smart as they are, they may have soon figured out and engineered the further removal of those boards.)
There was plenty of old, loose and baled hay in the loft; and good places high up in the hand-hewn beams to build their nest. They chose well, where two beams met – one horizontal, the other at an angle. Some time that spring after they first arrived, I had to go into that part of the barn and spotted the remarkably big nest, close to a meter across. I tried to leave them alone as much as possible from then on, not wanting to scare them away. I didn’t have much reason to go there, except to search out some of the few remaining bales of straw for mulching strawberries and potatoes. But after a spring storm there was a barn door to fix and that caused some raven commotion: The nesting couple took refuge in the nearby woods where they loudly complained about the intrusion. I tried to commiserate with them in a comforting tone, with assurances that I meant no harm, that I just had a hopefully one-time-job to do and would soon be gone. No problem, I said. “I’ll just get this here job done and be on my way.”
(Note: this is a guest post from Tibor Csincsa, of Holland Centre, Grey County, Ontario, Canada. Tibor is a long-time beekeeper who has travelled the world teaching beekeeping, giving workshops, and speaking at conferences. I saw a letter to the editor he wrote in the February 22, 2021 issue of Farmtario, an Ontario farm publication. It was in response to an article on Page 10, ‘Agriculture visions collide in Africa,’ in the January 25, 2021 Farmtario issue. Tibor kindly agreed to let me publish a longer version of his letter in Finding Hope Ness.)
Declaring the modern ‘American way’ approach to agriculture science-based and suggesting other traditional methods, especially European, are something less than that, is a shallow statement at best and, at worst, ignorant.
The ‘scientific’ American approach to agriculture has plenty of reason to do some soul searching regarding such things as soil degradation, less than rigorous agro-chemical licensing, and environmental damage. As a long-time beekeeper, I deal with the consequences such problems on a daily basis.
I earned my agricultural degree in Hungary and started my professional life there. During my decades long career, I have traveled to Asia, Africa, and eastern Europe to teach beekeeping, organize workshops, and speak at conferences. As a result, I have first-hand experience with the traditional way of farming in those regions. By pursuing my interest in, and promoting, beekeeping, I have visited very remote places around the globe, and not just the showcases of any country’s plant production and animal husbandry.
Though it’s late in coming, there’s nothing like the onset of something that resembles a good, old-fashioned Canada winter to test the myths and realities of growing old.
Let’s just say I’ve reached a certain age, well beyond the date when I officially became a ‘senior,’ and became eligible for what’s still called here in Canada, “Old Age Security.”
It’s not that I mind the money. I’m far from being a rich man, financially, anyway. But there’s something fundamentally wrong with sticking the “old age” label on someone at 65, or older, or at all, when they’re not old, not really.
When I was 65, I was still a young man. I could still keep up, and more, with guys half my age. I was still going strong at 70, and even, well, older than that. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve finally had to face up to slowing down to the extent that it may, just may, be time to say, yeah, okay, “I guess I’m old.”
December and January were unusually easy months, as Canadian winters go here on the peninsula between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. What happened to those lake-effect, ‘zero visibility,’ early-winter snow squalls? Well, it’s early February and they’re happening now, for the past couple of days, and forecast to keep happening into next week.
Just now, I look out my window and it’s coming down at a rate that could see another 10 to 15 centimeters, or more tonight.
And that means, again tomorrow morning it won’t be time to sit back and think about growing old: it will be time, like this morning, to rise to the occasion, fire up the tractor and the snowblower, clear my long, country driveway; then climb up on that too-old, home-built garage roof and finish clearing the snow off it so it won’t collapse under the weight. And then there’s that other, low-sloped roof I’m not all that secure about and would rather not take a chance and let the snow pile up. Better safe than sorry.
Actually, it’s more than safety; it’s survival. So many big and little things in secluded, rural living can turn into a big, survival problem if you don’t give them their due: a loose bolt on the snowblower tightened, chain and auger mechanisms greased; fresh gas for the generator in case of a power-outage; diesel fuel in reserve, a spare key for the tractor, and careful usage. They’re family, after all, Mr. Massey and now Mr. Massey Too.
I count it a blessing that winter and its challenges have arrived, and I am still up to meeting them.
I was surprised recently to find a copy of the Epoch Times newspaper in my mailbox here in my secluded, little corner of the world on the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada. Why me? I’m not a subscriber and had no interest in being one.
But then I saw the ‘sample issue’ tag at the top of the front page and realized it was a promotional flyer of sorts, though not routinely delivered like most others. Lots of us on the peninsula must have got it, and many residents of other parts of Ontario, according to media reports. The date of publication-coverage on the pages of the sample edition is January 1-7, 2021. An historic week to say the least.
I recognized the Epoch Times name. I had seen it in passing before in my daily browsing on the internet for news and had been left with the impression it was too conservatively biased for my taste.
But out of curiosity and to be fair I took a look through the sample edition, including a full, promotional page under the heading, “Read what others won’t report,” signed by publisher, Cindy Gu.
“These are trying times,” she wrote. “So, this complimentary edition of the Epoch Times is for you to enjoy. Because what we all need right now is honest, responsible journalism that investigates issues in an objective, and unbiased way.”
I browsed through the rest of the paper and soon got the impression it’s coverage was far from unbiased.
The Epoch Times is described by several online sources as far right-wing in its views, a supporter of soon-to-be former U.S. President Donald Trump, and affiliated with the Falun Gong religious movement persecuted and banned in Communist China. The newspaper was founded in 2000 as a Chinese language on-line publication based in New York. A short time later it began publishing a printed edition, and then an English-language edition in 2003. More recently, its strong support for Trump helped fuel a surge in circulation.
The sample Canadian edition’s front page includes an article under ‘USNEWS’ with the headline, “$500 Million Donation From Facebook’s Zuckerberg Used to Undermine US Election, Violate Law: Report.”
The article says the report was released in December by the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society. The Society, a registered U.S. charity, is described in the article as a “constitutional litigation organization.” It is deeply conservative in stance and often involved in legal actions on behalf of anti-abortion and religious-freedom advocates. The Society is named after St. Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England under Henry VIII. He was charged with treason and beheaded after a trial for refusing to support the King’s divorce from his first wife, Catharine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Boleyn. More also refused to support the tyrant King’s break with the Roman Catholic church and set up a separate, new national church for England.
The Epoch Times article says Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated a total of $500 million in grants to local election officials across the U.S. to help cover increased election expenses caused by unusual circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic. That may not be an accurate number. Numerous online reports put the Zuckerberg donation at $400 Million. But they do confirm, as the article says, that a non-profit charity based in Chicago, The Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) got donations totaling $350 million from Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. The CTCL distributed the funds to a total of 2,500 cash-strapped county election offices that applied for help to cope with Covid-19 challenges.
The Epoch Times article, citing the Amistad Project/Thomas More Society report, alleges the CTCL and other non-profits deliberately, and illegally under U.S. election laws, used the Zuckerberg money to target local election office in swing states to benefit the vote in Democratic “strongholds.” It says Facebook and the CTCL did not respond to requests for comment.
APM Reports, the investigative journalism arm of non-profit America Public Media Group, says in an article published December 7, 2020 that it had been unable to get interviews with the CTCL about the private election donations after repeated requests.
“But through a series of interviews, public records requests and a review of public meetings, APM Reports pieced together the details of grant awards in the five swing states that decided the election.” its article says under the headline, ‘How private money helped save the election.’
“APM Reports obtained more than 30 grant agreements and applications between local election offices and the Center for Tech and Civic Life. The documents show requests mainly focused on the logistics of the election: increased pay for poll workers, expanded early voting sites and extra equipment to more quickly process millions of mailed ballots.”
The APM Reports article notes, “In the weeks since the election, allies of President Trump have included the (CTCL) grants in their voter fraud conspiracy theories. They have challenged the legality and neutrality of the grants, claiming that the funding was aimed at boosting Democratic turnout. But an APM Reports analysis of voter registration and voter turnout in three of the five key swing states shows the grant funding had no clear impact on who turned out to vote. Turnout increased across the country from 2016,” the article said, adding, the analysis found that counties in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona that received grants didn’t have consistently higher turnout rates than those that didn’t receive money.”
As the November 3 election approached, local election offices in the U.S. were running out of money. In March 2020, the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) included $400 million for states “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus for the 2020 federal election cycle. This supplemental appropriation funding, distributed by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), will provide states with additional resources to protect the 2020 elections from the effects of the novel coronavirus,” the EAC still says on its website.
The APM Reports article notes that amount if federal funding was widely regarded at the time as nowhere near enough to meet the pandemic-related needs. As a result there were fears the election could be a “catastrophe.”
The CARES election money came with a host of strict requirements, including an unexpected one from Trump administration officials that required states to match 20 percent of the federal money. Only states were allowed to apply, rather than local, county, election officials directly. The EAC also required detailed ‘narrative explanations’ justifying how the money was used for strictly Covid-19 related needs.
The EAC’s most recent quarterly report, published October 10, 2020, about the disbursement of the CARES money for the period April to June, 2020, says all of the $400 million was used up by then. It notes, “Some states requested less than their full allocation due to concerns over meeting the required 20 percent match.” In other words, the EAC ran out of Covid-19 emergency money to help election officials across the U.S. cope with the unprecedented challenges they faced.
It wasn’t until well after the election that another bipartisan, Covid-19, relief bill was finally worked out and approved by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Trump.
The private donation money, including the Zuckerberg money, proved to be a lifesaver; or, as one elections manager said, “Honestly, I don’t know what we would have done without it.”
Benjamin Hovland, chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and a Trump appointee was, to his credit, one of many high-ranking federal and other officials in the U.S. who issued a ‘Joint Statement’ on November 12, 2020 defending the integrity of the November 3, 2020 election. Click on the link above for the complete list of names. Following is the full text of the statement:
“The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. Right now, across the country, election officials are reviewing and double checking the entire election process prior to finalizing the result.
“When states have close elections, many will recount ballots. All of the states with close results in the 2020 presidential race have paper records of each vote, allowing the ability to go back and count each ballot if necessary. This is an added benefit for security and resilience. This process allows for the identification and correction of any mistakes or errors. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.
“Other security measures like pre-election testing, state certification of voting equipment, and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) certification of voting equipment help to build additional confidence in the voting systems used in 2020.
“While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too. When you have questions, turn to elections officials as trusted voices as they administer elections.”
It’s well known by now that the Trump campaign and supporters, in their efforts to overthrow the election results, filed numerous, unsuccessful lawsuits alleging the election results in swing states were skewed by fraudulent activities. I found no evidence in my research that any of those lawsuits made an issue in their claims of the private donations that helped local election officials overcome the challenges of holding a national election in the midst of a pandemic emergency.
In summary, there was much more to the private, election-funds story than The Opech Times covered.
“Keep your hands on that plow, hold on.” — The refrain from an old American gospel/folk song
The wonderful thing about the annual celebration of the arrival of a New Year is the spirit of hope it inspires. Whatever the troubles of the old year were — though they can’t all be consigned safely to history or memory — they can be met with a new resolve. For a wonderful moment, anything is possible again. The earth, this precious, little, blue-green jewel of a planet, has come full circle. Another journey has begun; and with it the chance, again, to get things right, or at least start heading decisively, resolutions in hand, in that direction.
I really would like to continue this post in a hopeful, positive tone, about how I’ve got my seed order in already for the 2021 gardening season, how the renewed interest in growing and eating food you grow yourself is a good thing for more than that good reason. It is also a continuous learning experience that helps keep your body, mind, and spirit healthy and hopeful. Or to put it another way: being close to the soil is good for the soul.
But first, dear, patient, persevering reader, allow me to pause long enough to consider an important event in a few days that could have a huge impact on the shape of things to come in 2021, and beyond. One way or another, January 6, 2021 could be a date that will go down in history as an epic turning point; hopefully, for the better.
This coming Wednesday, starting at 1 p.m., a joint session of the U.S. congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, will meet in the House, to formally hear and confirm the results of the November 3, 2020 U.S. election. That is, the state-by-state, certified electoral college results as voted on December 14, 2020. That process gave the Democratic Party candidate, Joe Biden, 306 electoral votes for President, compared with 232 for incumbent, one-term President, Republican Donald Trump. Biden won the national, popular vote by more than seven million, in an election that saw more than 155 million American voters cast ballots, the most ever.
But Trump has not conceded defeat and continues to claim there was widespread fraud during the election, despite the claim being repeatedly dismissed in court for lack of evidence. Inauguration Day is January 20. The January 6 Joint Session, normally a routine affair, is shaping up to be anything but routine.
Sitting Vice-Presidents of the U.S., in their capacity as President of the Senate, preside over the Joint Session, unless they choose not to, or otherwise are not available. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey declined the job in 1969. In those circumstances the President pro tempore of the Senate presides, the Congressional Research Service says in its December 8, 2020 report, Counting Electoral Votes.
If the current Vice-President, Mike Pence, is not willing or available for whatever reason, he would be replaced by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the current President pro tempore of the Senate.
Assuming he will be presiding, Pence’s job will be to open the sealed electoral college result envelopes from each state, and hand them over to appointed ‘tellers’ to be read aloud to the Joint Session. At that point, his other role, to maintain “order,” could get much more than routinely interesting.
“When the certificate or equivalent paper from each state or the District of Columbia is read, the President of the Senate shall call for objections, if any,” the Congressional Review Service says. “Any such objection must be presented in writing and must be signed by at least one Senator and one Representative. The objection ‘shall state clearly and concisely, and without argument, the ground thereof.’ During the joint session of January 6, 2001, the presiding officer intervened on several occasions to halt attempts to make speeches under the guise of offering an objection.”
The report goes on to say, “When an objection, properly made in writing and endorsed by at least one Senator and one Representative, is received, each house is to meet and consider it separately. The statute states, ‘No votes or papers from any other State shall be acted upon until the objections previously made to the votes or papers from any State shall have been finally disposed of.’ However, in 1873, before enactment of the law now in force, the joint session agreed, without objection and for reasons of convenience, to entertain objections with regard to two or more states before the houses met separately on any of them.”
The report does not clarify what effect, if any, the actions of 1873 may still have on the application of the statute if multiple objections are raised during the upcoming Joint Session. Recent news reports have said up to 140 Republican members of the House may raise or support objections, and so far, 11 Republican senators. Might it be up to Pence to rule objections be handled state-by-state, or collectively, as in 1873? When objections are accepted as valid by the presiding vice-president the Joint Session is required to adjourn, and the House members and Senators go to their separate chambers to debate the issue, for a maximum of two hours. If Pence rules multiple objections during the reading of each state’s electoral results should be handled one at a time, that will certainly spell a long delay in the Joint Session process, and disruption.
The Congressional Review Service report raises another interesting point regarding the “basis for objections.” It says the federal statue and “historical sources” appear to suggest the “general grounds” for objections include “that the elector was not ‘lawfully certified’ according to state statutory procedures.”
The paragraph continues, “It should be noted that the word lawfully was expressly inserted by the House in the Senate legislation (S. 9, 49th Congress) before the word certified. Such addition arguably provides an indication that Congress thought it might, as grounds for an objection, question and look into the lawfulness of the certification under state law.”
The Trump campaign has raised the issue of the lawfulness of state election law — in swing states, not states he won – but the actions were dismissed in court. Will it be raised again on January 6?
There does seem to be lots of potential for the Joint Session to become problematic, to put it mildly. The chances of Trump and his political enablers succeeding in overturning the election results are said by many in the news media to be slim at best, to impossible. But after four years of Trumpism it seems anything, no matter how outrageous, is still possible. And the mechanism of the Joint Session leaves that door open.
Bad enough the fate of the world’s first and once-greatest democracy is at stake; but the fate of the world itself also hangs in the balance.
So much for my hopeful, positive intentions for this post.
Yes, I have ordered my garden seeds for the 2021 season. I strongly recommend you long-time, or Brave New Gardeners, do the same, ASAP, because lots of people are getting on board the grow-your-own bandwagon. It was true last year, and is likely just as true, or even more so, this year.
I promise, you’ll be glad you did: there’s nothing like gardening to offer refuge for the worried mind.
(February 9th, 2021. This article has been updated regarding third-party — including private property — issues and current Government of Canada policy related to First Nation land claim settlements.)
Not that long ago a people now often referred to in Canada as ‘First Nation’ used to walk freely for ages on the 5.9 acres (2.4 hectares) of land I now call home here in Hope Ness, north of Hope Bay, on the Bruce (Formerly Saugeen) Peninsula.
They’ve been on my mind a lot, those First Nation people who trusted the British Crown enough for a time to fight and crucially help protect Canada from U.S. invasion during the war of 1812; who fought honorably for Canada and the Crown in disproportionately large numbers in two world wars; and who now continue to fight, peacefully and honorably in Canadian courts, for justice.
So, let us non-Aboriginal Canadians, locally and across Canada, first learn and think about things like that before we get all hot and bothered about the prospect of a court decision in favor of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) in their long-standing, land-and-water claim lawsuit. Because, make no mistake, they have a good case. Final arguments are done, the trial is over, and case has been adjourned as the Justice presiding over the case considers a judgment. That will surely come in 2021, and likely early at that.
Yes, a judgement in SON’s favor could be highly consequential, leading to either court-ordered compensation for 160-plus years of heart-breaking loss and injustice, or a negotiated settlement. Or it could be appealed, perhaps as far as the Supreme Court of Canada. More years could go by. Some of us, myself included, could be gone by then. But be careful what you say to your children and your grandchildren: don’t leave them with a burden of fear and anger to sort through, or not, and the bitter consequences that come from that.
The Saugeen Peninsula was named after the First Nation people whose territory it was long before the controversial signing of Treaty 72 in 1854. As a result of that treaty, most of the peninsula was ‘surrendered’ by the Saugeen First Nations in trust to the Crown and opened up for settlement by non-Aboriginal newcomers. A people whose territory just 18 years earlier had encompassed an area of two million acres, were left with a few small reserves and hunting grounds.
Then, within a few more years, the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation were forced out of their community, called Newash, to make way for the expanding new non-Aboriginal town of Owen Sound. Another reserve at Colpoy’s Bay north of Wiarton was lost, with some people from there going to the new Nawash reserve, at Cape Croker, some going to the Chippewas of Saugeen reserve near Southampton, and others to Christian Island, near Penetanguishene on the other side of Georgian Bay.
The Chippewas of Saugeen reserve is on the Lake Huron shore, near the mouth of the Saugeen River, north to Chief’s Point at the mouth of the Sauble River. The north-south boundary of the Saugeen reserve, and thus the ownership of Sauble Beach, is currently also the subject of a land-claim before an Ontario court.
The two distinct but related First Nations, the Chippewas of Nawash, and the Chippewas of Saugeen, together call themselves the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON). Since the time of ‘contact’ when Europeans began to show up in this part of North America some 400 years ago, they have been called by various names, including Chippewa, Ojibway, Odawa, Pottawatomi. They identify themselves as Anishinaabe. They speak a dialect of the same language spoken by other Anishinaabe people in the Great Lakes area; and they share many cultural traditions, including a deep spiritual connection to their territorial land, and waters.
Under the Saugeen Ojibway Nation name the two First Nations have worked together for decades to successfully re-affirm their Aboriginal rights.
An Ontario Court (Provincial Division) judgement in 1993 was a landmark case. In dismissing provincial overfishing charges against two Nawash fishermen it affirmed the two First Nations’ “priority” right to fish commercially fishery in the waters around the peninsula.
In 1994, frustrated by the lack of progress in land-claim talks Canadian government offcials, SON took the momentous step, unprecedented in Canada, of filing a land-claim lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court.
That action alleges the Crown violated its Fiduciary, or trust, duty in the allegedly improper and deceitful circumstances and events leading up to, and during, the signing of Treaty 72.
Canada was still a British colony in 1854. It became a self-governing Dominion in 1867, and like many other former British colonies remains a Constitutional Monarchy to this day, with Queen Elizabeth II its formal Head of State.
The Canadian Encyclopedia describes the ‘Law of Fiduciary Obligation’ in part as “special relationships … that entail trust and confidence and require that fiduciaries act honestly, in good faith, and strictly in the best interests of the beneficiaries of such relationships
The defendants named in the SON lawsuit are the Crown, in the name of the governments of Canada and Ontario, Bruce County and four local municipalities, Northern Bruce Peninsula, South Bruce Peninsula, Saugeen Shores; and Georgian Bluffs in Grey County.
Grey County itself was previously also named as a defendant in the unique land-claim case. But the county reached a negotiated settlement with SON, announced Sept. 9, 2020 in a joint news release, by agreeing to transfer ownership to SON of a 275-acre county forest.
A key point in the case is the promise made in 1836 by Crown representatives to convince the Saugeen to sign a treaty surrendering 1.5 million acres of their territory south of the peninsula. They said the Crown could not control the encroachment of squatters into that large part of Saugeen territory. However, they promised to keep squatters out of the peninsula “forever.” But just 18 years later, during high-pressure talks leading to the signing of Treaty 72, different Crown representatives again told the Saugeen there was nothing they could do to stop squatters encroaching on the peninsula.
Yet, after the treaty was signed, at 1 a.m. the morning of Oct. 14, 1854, Laurence Oliphant, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs under then Governor-General of Canada, Lord Elgin, sent a message to Grey County Sheriff, George Schneider. It ordered him to “summarily” eject any squatters intruding on “the property of the Crown” in the newly surrendered peninsula.
In 2004 a claim for Aboriginal title to the waters surrounding SON’s traditional territory in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron was added to the lawsuit.
The case has been divided into two phases: first phase, determining the merits of the case; the second, consideration of compensation.
The lawsuit claims a total of $90 billion in damages. In legal parlance that’s known as a “placeholder,” John Bainbridge, a lawyer with land claim experience, wrote in the Bruce Peninsula Press in August, 2019. “Any litigant who fails to put in a figure for compensation in their Statement of Claim will get zero dollars if they win the lawsuit. If the SON establish that they have a valid claim, a negotiation will begin to determine an accurate figure for compensation that will probably fall far short of $90 billion,” Bainbridge wrote. He noted “the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is one of the biggest so far in Canada and the compensation they received was $1.4 billion.”
I have thought all along that compensation arising from the SON lawsuit would have to be largely in the form of territory. SON is seeking ownership interest in Crown lands, currently owned in the name of Ontario and Canada, including the Bruce Peninsula National Park.
From the beginning of the lawsuit SON has made the point that private property bought and paid for by ‘third parties’ in good faith is not at risk. Bainbridge confirmed that: “As a matter of principle no Aboriginal land claims in Canada will affect private property acquired ‘in good faith.’ All claims seek title to crown land only – either federal or provincial. This is why road allowances, Parks and the lakebed are subject to the claim.”
A current Government of Canada website page, about the federally sanctioned process for resolving First Nation claims , outlines the government policy regarding private property rights when land is involved in settling ‘Specific Claims:’ “It is important to note that Canada’s policy on specific claims protects the current ownership and rights of private land owners. Private property is not taken away from anyone to settle specific claims. Nor is anyone asked to sell their land unwillingly. If land changes hands after a settlement, this can only happen on a willing-buyer/willing-seller basis,” it says under the heading,’ An Overview of Specific Claim Settlements Involving Land.’
I note that policy is discussed as part of the in-house, claim-settlement process preferred by the government, rather than lawsuit litigation, the approach taken by SON, but discouraged by the government. Similarly, in a separate court action, the Saugeen First Nation chose litigation in its claim that the SFN reserve boundary was mistakenly draw after the 1854 treaty; and, therefore, all of the beach at Sauble Beach is rightfully reserve territory. Several private property owners were named as defendants when the lawsuit was filed in 1995. The Government of Canada was also named as a defendant, but now supports the SFN action which is still before an Ontario Superior Court. The SON lawsuit is a separate action. I contacted the federal ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs’ media office in hopes of clarifying the government’s policy as it relates to litigation-lawsuit claims, including the SFN Sauble Beach case. But ministry officials declined to comment on that matter.
Under the terms of Treaty 72 surrendered land was to be surveyed into 100-acre farm lots, to be sold to settlers, and the money thus acquired put into trust funds for the benefit of the First Nations. But no thought was given to road allowances, given over to municipalities by the Crown without payment.
Full disclosure here: I have as much reason as any non-Aboriginal property owner on the peninsula to be interested in the outcome of the SON lawsuit for a couple of reasons:
First, I live on what’s now part of one of those original, 100-acre lots mentioned above. My copy of the original Crown patent says it was sold April 10, 1880 to John Heath for $100.
Second, I’m surrounded on all sides by the provincially owned Hope Bay Forest Nature Reserve. I’d be a fool not to think it might be included in any compensation settling the SON lawsuit. Does that worry me? Not much.
But I do have some concerns, about how an outcome of the lawsuit in favor of SON, and a subsequent compensation settlement, will be received in the non-Aboriginal community. That’s especially if people feel like they’ve been blind-sided because they’ve been left in the dark for 25 years without any information from government defendants.
Most of what is publicly known about the status of the case has come directly or indirectly from SON as they keep their people informed via online newsletters, and updates also posted on the website of the law firm, Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP (OKT), handling the SON case.
Haven’t we been here before? Shouldn’t we here in the Owen Sound, Bruce Peninsula area know better by now? Shouldn’t we have been demanding more information, on the assumption there were surely some things that could be made public, so we could start thinking about what might be coming?
In that regard, I’ve been thinking a lot about Nawash fisherman who turned into my driveway one day in the summer of 2014.
He looked to be in his mid-30s. He had freshly-caught Georgian Bay whitefish in his well-used pick-up to sell. Did I want some? Yes, I said.
We chatted for a while as he wrapped up the filets. I saw he had a long scar on one side of his face, from what must have been a seriously deep, sharp cut. I hesitated for a moment, but had to ask, was he one of the young, Aboriginal men assaulted one night in the summer of 1995 in downtown Owen Sound in one of series of violent incidents that happened when some in the local, non-Aboriginal community reacted angrily to the 1993 court decision regarding SON’s right to fish commercially in local waters and the subsequent emergence of an Aboriginal fishery?
Yes, he was, he said.
I have written about him before, in a post for my blog, Finding Hope Ness. I’ll quote from it here:
“Left with that scar for the rest of his life, the result of a racist attack, it would have been understandable if he was still also carrying a lot of anger and resentment toward his attackers, and perhaps even the non-Aboriginal community whose racist spawn they were. But on the contrary, he had moved on. Life, he told me, was too precious and good to waste on that kind of spirit-destroying thing.”
About a week later I was at a packed public meeting at the Sauble Beach Community Centre. The mostly non-Aboriginal, local crowd was there to hear about an important development in the nearby Saugeen First Nation’s long-standing claim that the north section of the popular beach should rightfully be in Saugeen reserve territory, and not part of the amalgamated Town of the South Bruce Peninsula. The government of Canada was prepared to correct the mistake, giving Saugeen ownership of the entire beach, the crowd was told. They were also told the First Nation was willing to enter into a co-management agreement with the town to manage the beach as part of a negotiated settlement.
None of that went over well. The immediate and overwhelming response was outrage and disbelief at the very idea, so much so that the negotiated settlement went nowhere. The court case remains unresolved, but currently awaiting the outcome of a Saugeen motion calling for a summary judgement. Such a motion is an option provided for civil cases in Ontario when one of the parties believes there is “no genuine issue for a trial,” according to the Ministry of the Attorney-General. The onus is on that party to prove the point. The government of Canada supports the Saugeen motion. South Bruce Peninsula council opposes it and is supported by the provincial government.
I warned more than six years ago, after the Sauble Beach debacle, that there was a need to develop a better, more respectful and thoughtful way of responding to local First Nation land claims because there were more and bigger ones to come.
I was referring to the SON land-and-water claim lawsuit, now awaiting a judgement, coming to a peninsula near you, any day now.
On a hopeful note, the public statement announcing the negotiated settlement worked out between Grey County and SON last September suggest some fresh, conciliatory breezes are starting to stir:
“This settlement provides some closure to a long-standing claim, but I hope it can also be the beginning of more conversation, more understanding and a stronger relationship between Grey County, SON and the Anishinaabe people,” said Grey County Warden Paul McQueen.
“This agreement is an important step forward in a long history of our communities working towards righting a wrong,” said Chief Lester Anoquot of Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation. “We are happy and hopeful that we are taking this step with our neighbours towards building a better understanding and a stronger future alongside one another.”
In 2018, well before the trial began in April, 2019, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation indicated a willingness to begin talks leading to a comprehensive, negotiated settlement. But the governments of Canada and Ontario refused. They both separately cited SON’s original 1994 decision to take the claim to court, rather than use the government-sanctioned process, as their reason. I fear that could yet prove to be a costly, missed opportunity.