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Treaties and Land Claims

Saugeen Ojibway Nation raises concerns about Metis rights in territory

November 1, 2023
Saugeen Ojibway Nation
Saugeen Ojibway Nation PHOTO BY SUPPLIED

First Nations Law Report: Owen Sound The Sun Times – The Saugeen Ojibway Nation is raising concerns about what it says are Metis groups asserting rights in their traditional territory and the willingness of organizations, proponents and governments to engage with those communities.

On Oct. 25, SON – made up of the Saugeen First Nation and the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation — released a statement in which it took aim at the Metis Nation of Ontario and Historic Saugeen Metis, urging others to “halt any plans for engagement” with the Metis groups.

“We are troubled that organizations, proponents and governments are engaging with MNO and HSM to arrange events regarding alleged Metis rights and activities occurring on SON’s Territory,” the statement read. “No Metis group has treaties, rights or connections to SON’s Territory. “While these groups are free to self-identify and reside in our Territory as they wish, they have no basis for asserting a historical or cultural connection to our Territory nor a basis for any assertion of rights.”

The statement came as hearings were set to begin in Ottawa on Bill C-53, the Recognition of Certain Metis Governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan and Metis Self-Government Act. In February the Canadian government signed self-governing recognition and implementation agreements with the Metis Nation of Ontario, Metis Nation of Alberta and Metis Nation – Saskatchewan and the act is necessary to give effect to those treaties. The Metis are people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry and are one of three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada along with the First Nations and Inuit.

On Oct. 25, SON said it is concerned that when organizations, proponents and governments engage with MNO and HSM it “enables them to purport to have historical or cultural connection to our lands and waters.”

The Metis Nation of Ontario responded on Friday to the SON release with a statement of its own in which it said it represents rights-bearing Metis citizens and rights-bearing Metis communities within Ontario. It said those communities do not assert their “constitutionally recognized rights” across the province, but rather in specific areas and in accordance with criteria established by the Metis Nation of Canada and accepted by the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Powley.

“The Georgian Bay Metis Community asserts section 35 Aboriginal rights in accordance with the Powley criteria in the Georgian Bay area. Those rights can co-exist with other S. 35 rights,” the MNO statement read. “We welcome building a relationship and working together with Saugeen Ojibway Nation.”

In its statement, SON said the MNO and its regional council, the Georgian Bay Metis Council, claim a broad harvesting territory that encompasses SON’s territory. SON noted that the GBMC states that they originate from Metis families who migrated from Michilimackinac or Drummond Island to Penetanguishene, and that “there are no treaties entitling this group to exercise their rights to SON territory, nor do they share the longstanding history to the land and waters as SON does.”

“The history they purport to have does not entitle them to rights to SON’s territory,” SON stated.

It urged organizations, proponents and governments to halt any plans for engagement with the Metis organizations. “In order to advance the goal of reconciliation, third-parties should engage and cooperate with SON, the actual rights holders in the Territory, not those who assert to have rights in the area without any historical or legal foundation,” SON stated.

SON’s traditional territory, called Saukiing Anishmaabekiing, includes over two million acres in southwestern Ontario, stretching from Tobermory in the north to Goderich in the south and the Nottawasaga River in the east.

SON says it and its members hold and exercise exclusive Aboriginal and treaty rights throughout the territory, including its right to fish commercially in its traditional waters, which are affirmed and protected by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and have been recognized in court through the Jones decision of 1993.

Saugeen First Nation Chief Conrad Ritchie said on Oct. 26 that an assertion of rights by Metis groups has been concerning to SON for some time, and the release issued on Wednesday was in response to concerns in the SON community and what they see as a possible continued erosion of the territorial and treaty rights they have fought to achieve.

“That is why particular First Nations are pushing for with Ottawa, to have a debate, to do their due diligence, to do their history and not just freely give somebody rights,” said Ritchie. “Our people have to continuously fight for everything, but yet here is a group that self identifies and they are automatically given consideration for the rights and access to harvesting, fishing and all the things within our Nation.”

Ritchie said discussions are expected to begin shortly surrounding the Jay Treaty, signed in 1794 between Great Britain and the United States, which provided that First Nations peoples could travel freely across the international boundary. “One of the concerns is the government recognizing Metis groups and possibly giving them those Jay Treaty rights when Metis weren’t even existent at the time that treaty was made,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie said to be a member of Saugeen and a part of its treaty and Aboriginal rights, a certain level of blood quantum is required. He said SON is concerned that by the government granting rights to Metis, it will therefore mean they won’t have to meet a certain threshold or criteria to exercise those rights.

“Indigenous people, the actual rights holders, have to prove a certain percentage,” Ritchie said. “How can you give somebody rights when they weren’t even a part of the treaty-making process?”

Ritchie said the introduction of Bill C-53 is a concerning development for SON.

On Oct. 25, the MNO issued a news release addressing the beginning of hearings on the bill by the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

Prior to the start of the hearings on Oct. 26, MNO president Margaret Froh spoke in support of the legislation that provides a framework for the implementation of the treaties entered into by Metis governments and the Government of Canada. They are urging MPs to pass Bill C-53, which passed through second reading in June.

“We have heard apologies for historic wrongs, and we have heard the Calls to Action from the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Froh said in the release. “We know that reconciliation with all of Canada’s Indigenous peoples is Parliament’s goal.

“Passing this legislation is reconciliation.”

The legislation focuses exclusively on matters internal to Metis governments in Canada, like citizenship, leadership selection, the structure of government and how Metis communities care for Metis children and families, and the bill does not – and cannot – impact any Indigenous group other than the Metis Nation of Alberta, Metis Nation of Saskatchewan and the Metis Nation of Ontario, the MNO release said.

But Ritchie is fearful the moves are only causing more heartache and pain for his people. “What kind of message is that sending for the people who are maybe losing a sense of hope,” Ritchie said. “You have continuous eradication and continuous oppression against a community, and you have a country that speaks about reconciliation and all that, but where is that reconciliation.”

Ritchie said land acknowledgements that local municipalities have introduced in the spirit of reconciliation often contain references to Metis, which is concerning to some of his community members.

“A lot of organizations, a lot of proponents and a lot of others within the county maybe don’t even know the history, but the people here, we know the history, we know the elders who hold the history, we have the research and we have done our homework,” said Ritchie. “That is part of why we are sending the message out, so that people know what they are embracing and supporting, and is that the actual road to reconciliation when the people continue to be unheard.”

In its release issued on Oct. 25, SON also noted the Historic Saugeen Metis, a community of Metis who claim the area as their traditional territory. The group broke ties with MNO almost 15 years ago.

Ross Lamont, an advisor for HSM, said Friday that the HSM does not want to get into a war of words with SON. He said they have some sympathy for SON as they have been fighting for their rights and self-governance rights for many years “without much success” and they are now seeing the provincial Metis organizations moving ahead on that front, “causing frustration” and a “desire to put a stop to it.”

“They are being dragged into a fight they don’t want to participate in,” Lamont said of the HSM. “They just want to be a community and understood as a community.”

Lamont said HSM respect that SON’s ancestors have lived in the area “since time immemorial,” but the Metis also have a strong interest in the environment and some of the traditional uses of wildlife and plants in a region their ancestors have called home since the early 1800s.

In its release, SON highlighted the story of the Piche Wampum of 1818, which the HSM cites as “the source of its claims to exercise rights on SON’s territory.” “This claim is unsupported by the historical evidence,” SON said in summarizing its interpretation of the wampum story.

HSM claims that in 1816-1818, the Wampum, a string of beads, was presented to fur trader Pierre Piche by the Ojibwe “as a tangible reminder, an enduring record, of the diplomatic exchange, and the words spoken between the Ojibwe and Metis, that formed their peaceful sharing relationship in the Saugeen territory.”

HSM says on its website that “from time immemorial, aboriginal peoples have considered any agreement made or entered into, when accompanied by wampum, as binding as a written agreement or treaty.” “Under the Piche Wampum, the local Ojibwe and the Metis agreed to jointly inhabit the traditional Saugeen territory for the mutual protection and benefit of the aboriginal people who live here,” HSM says.

But SON says the wampum was simply a personal possession that a Saugeen resident who had married Piche passed to a Red River Metis woman named Agustine Grandeville who had relocated to Saugeen. “In any case, a Saugeen resident acting individually could not make such an arrangement with respect to SON’s resources and rights, which are held collectively by SON as a Nation,” SON wrote.

SON says that the “self-identifying” Metis that make up HSM’s membership do not have any genealogical connection between Piche and his Saugeen wife, nor with Grandeville, “whose lineage ended with her child.” “While HSM’s members may be people who have lived on our Territory, this does not entitle them to assert historic or cultural connection over our Territory,” SON said.

Lamont said the HSM community know their history in the area and they understand it well. They are descendants of the Metis who came to the area from the west with the fur trade in the early 1800s, before European settlers arrived in Grey-Bruce.

While HSM were not part of the treaties signed by SON in the 1800s, Lamont noted that Section 35 of the Constitution does give rights to Metis and Inuit, and does not discriminate between First Nations, Metis and Inuit.

Lamont said they represent no threat to the land claims of SON. “The (HSM) are not interested in any land claims or benefitting from any land claims the Saugeen Ojibway Nation are in the middle of,” he said.

There has long been a bias against the Metis people in the area, Lamont noted, and many didn’t admit to their heritage for many years. He said they now have relationships with local municipalities and contracts with energy companies in the area, who “have recognized the role Historic Saugeen Metis can play.”

He said those partners are put in a difficult position when SON asks them to exclude the Metis, “but the fact is they are here and they are not going away.” “It really is a form of bullying and discrimination that happened to (SON) and they didn’t like it, but they do it to others,” Lamont said. “It is a tricky situation and the Historic Saugeen Metis does not want to do anything that will make the relationships worse.

“They want to continue to act responsibly with the proponents that are in the area and they want to make their contribution to environmental assessments and things that are going on, and to ensure the protection of the community and the environment is continuing.”

Rob Gowan,