A lost opportunity in relations with First Nations

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.

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A sacred place

This year’s recent Sources of Knowledge (SOK) forum based in Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula about an hour north of Hope Ness focussed on First Nation history in this area.


Hope Bay, looking out to Georgian Bay, from the top of the Niagara Escarpment

I regret having missed it; otherwise, I would have been aware of the special presentation virtually right around the corner from me on the other side of Hope Bay at the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation Community Centre at Neyaashiinigmiing (Cape Croker).

I’m kicking myself: it may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear much more about the significant archeological work done at Nochemowening. Known in recent years as Hunter’s Point, Nochemowening, is an area of land below the Niagara Escarpment on this side of Hope Bay. It is part of Hope Ness. Continue reading

Empty words are the enemies of hope

This one’s a no-brainer, right?

“Hope,” I mean, as the Word Press Daily Prompt, and this blog, called Finding Hope Ness.



How many times have I said I’m “surrounded by hope,” as in Hope Bay, the Hope Bay Nature Reserve, Hope Bay Forest, and Hope Ness itself? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. But, in case you’re a first-time reader, the answer is lots of times; too many, as if saying it often enough, taking advantage of the coincidence of location, makes it real.

There is nothing more precious and yet so hard to find than hope. And nothing more sentimentalized.

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No more betrayals


Remembrance Day wreaths laid at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, 2014

When I moved almost 37 years ago to the Bruce Peninsula – formerly known as the Saugeen, or Indian Peninsula – I naively believed Aboriginal people should be treated as equal citizens of Canada. The year was 1979, 10 years after the now-infamous “white paper,” formally called the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy.

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The day Dow came to Hope Ness

Hopeness3Any discussion here of the history of Hope Ness will include respect paid to the fact First Nation people lived here for many thousands of years before European settlers, mainly from the British Isles, started arriving less than 150 years ago

As far as I know, I don’t have any First Nation blood running through my veins. Both my parents were adopted, my mother by her grandparents, my father by unrelated people when he was a newborn baby. He had no interest in delving into the mystery of his biological origins. “let sleeping dogs lie,” he said.

(A young anthropologist I met on a trip out west in the mid-1970s told me, from what he had learned, a lot of Canadians would be much surprised at the extent of the First Nation presence in their family background. I believed him, and I still do.)

At any event, I don’t feel comfortable writing much at all about the traditional First Nation presence in this area others named Hope Ness. It’s presumptuous, and there’s been far too much of that already. Besides, what do I know, anyway?

I will say only this: I understand from what I’ve read of the information gathered by the nearby Chippewas of Nawash First Nation that this area was traditionally regarded as a powerful spiritual place, a place of healing for Aboriginal people who came here from all over the Great Lakes region. And I think that’s wonderful.

I also think that adds more weight to my thought that Hope Ness should never have been considered by anyone as a site for a major industrial development. Continue reading

Saugeen Ojibway Nation land-claim lawsuit at a crucial phase

bruce park

In recent years the Bruce Peninsula National Park has become an important international tourist destination, with much of the attention focused on the Grotto, above.

(This update corrects an error in the naming of the two First Nations that comprise the Saugeen Ojibway Nation. It also adds some additional information regarding the status of the case.)

The original version of this blog-post was published in Finding Hope Ness on December 19, 2015. The title then was, Saugeen Ojibway land claim lawsuit may soon be settled, one way or another. At the time there were reasons to think 2018 could be the crucial year for reaching a resolution of the now-almost 25-year-long court action.

But 2018 has come and gone, with no indication to the general public that a negotiated settlement is in the works.

The Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) took the unusual step in 1994 of filing a lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to settle long-standing land claims after years frustration with the government-sanctioned process. Continue reading

An Aboriginal fisherman leaves food for thought

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

No Nets in Colpoy’s Bay

It boggles the mind. Where to begin? There are so many things wrong with the-affair-of-the-commercial-nets-in-Colpoy’s-Bay-last-weekend-that-weren’t-there-after-all that I’m tempted to say it sounds like the proverbial “comedy of errors,” starting with a couple of members of the Bruce Peninsula Sportsmen’s Association jumping to the conclusion that a First Nation fishing tug going slow on its way to the Colpoy’s Bay government dock must have been setting nets. Continue reading

Aboriginal Commercial Fishers

There’s nothing like the annual Owen Sound Salmon Spectacular, in its present format at least, to highlight the polarized tribal nature of race relations in Owen Sound-Grey-Bruce. The Caledonia situation, with its at times irresponsible behaviour on both sides has no doubt done great harm to relations between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in that area and the country generally. No such angry, violent and otherwise unpleasant confrontations happened in Owen Sound during the recent Salmon Spectacular, attended, as this newspaper reported, by “thousands” of sports fishers and their families from here and far away.  Continue reading

Sharing Gaming Revenues

I see former Ontario Premier David Peterson has got himself a nice gig. The current Liberal government has just appointed him to spearhead negotiations with First Nations for a new agreement on sharing gaming revenues. First Nations already receive gaming proceeds from Casino Rama in Orillia, and have begun preliminary talks with the province about getting revenues from other sites.  Continue reading