I have a clear memory of sitting across from the late Chief James Mason in his office at the Saugeen First Nation Band Office at Chippawa Hill more than 30 years ago. It may not have been the first time, or the last time. I had several such meetings/interviews with him. My beat as an Owen Sound Sun Times reporter at the time included Aboriginal Affairs and the various issues affecting the two First Nations in Ontario’s Grey-Bruce area, the other being the Chippewas of Nawash at Cape Croker.
A land-claim lawsuit with potentially major implications for the Bruce Peninsula in particular and the Grey-Bruce area in general is moving slowly towards a trial date “perhaps in 2018,” a lawyer working on the case has told me.
But if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his newly-elected Liberal government come up with a “different attitude” toward resolving the 21-year-old lawsuit, “we’ll certainly take that into account,” Roger Townshend said in a telephone interview.
He preferred not to speculate about the possibility that “different attitude” might lead to an offer to negotiate a settlement rather than have the legal process continue, leading to a trial. He also declined to say if that was indeed something he and his Saugeen Ojibway clients were hoping might happen. Continue reading
A few weeks ago a well-used pick-up truck pulled into our driveway on the Bruce Peninsula. A man who looked like he might be in his mid-30s got out and said he and his fisherman partner had some freshly caught Georgian Bay fish for sale and did I want some.
They were from nearby Cape Croker, home of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, and they were doing what people from there have been doing for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, trading and bartering the fish they catch, in this case nowadays, for cash. That traditional and vital use of the fishery around what used to be called the Saugeen Peninsula, for food and trade, was recognized and re-affirmed by an Ontario court decision in 1993, that ruled First Nation people in this area were entitled to “priority” use of the fishery in local waters.
At the time most large-scale commercial fishers in Lake Huron and Georgian Bay waters in this area were non-Aboriginal. That court decision began a process of change, leading to the predominantly First Nation fishery that exists today. But the initial reaction of many people in the local non-Aboriginal community was angry and confrontational.
For a while downtown Owen Sound was not a friendly or even safe place for First Nation people to be. One night two young men from Cape Croker were attacked with knives by a group of thugs and badly injured. Continue reading
I suppose the day will come that I will have to hang up my journalistic spurs for good, in which case I hope I’m around long enough to see some long-standing big stories finally played out one way or another, for the better.
But in the meantime I attended the public meeting earlier this week about the proposed settlement agreement in connection with the Saugeen First Nation’s lawsuit/claim to much of the rest of Sauble Beach.
I was not the least bit surprised to see the parking lot full to overflowing when I arrived. With the Sauble Beach Community Centre at its 500-person capacity limit, and people being turned away shortly before the meeting began, I was lucky, and much relieved, to get in.
I had gone as much to be a witness to history, as for the sake of immersing myself in the big story yet again. And make no mistake, based on my more than 30 years experience, this is right up there with the Niagara Escarpment Plan controversy in the late 1970s, the Bruce Peninsula National Park debate in the early 1980s, and the terrible reaction in the non-Aboriginal community to the 1993 court decision that affirmed the local Aboriginal “priority” right to the fishery in area waters.
And this, a claim and proposed settlement affecting the Grey-Bruce area’s major summer beach/tourism resource, may be something like a dress rehearsal for an even bigger story to come. That’s the Saugeen Ojibway lawsuit involving road allowances and other land on the entire Bruce Peninsula. Continue reading