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Saugeen Shores close to agreement with SON over claim

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Saugeen Shores has nearly finished an out-of-court settlement concerning its share of Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s multi-billion dollar Bruce Peninsula claim, part of which a court is expected to rule on by month’s end.

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The municipality and neighbouring First Nations said in a news release Wednesday they’re “working together to finalize an agreement,” with Saugeen Shores. SON’s claim continues against other municipalities, Canada and Ontario, the release said.

Mostly the claim against Saugeen Shores concerns municipal road allowances and shore road allowances conveyed to it by the Crown, the release said.

Luke Charbonneau, mayor of this Lake Huron shoreline community, said Thursday in an interview they’re still working out the details about what specifically is claimed.

“What I would say is Saugeen Ojibway Nation have a 25-year claim, that they’ve been fighting for 25 years, and we’ve been on the opposite side of for that length of time and it’s time we reconciled these things and concluded them.

“So we can put it past us and move forward with a productive, positive relationship that doesn’t have this litigation hanging over our heads.” He said it’s the “right thing to do” and a settlement would benefit “everybody in Saugeen Shores and everybody in the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.”

Lester Anoquot, chief of the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation, which neighbours Saugeen Shores, declined to comment Thursday other than to say “We will have a press release after the judge’s ruling July 31.”

Greg Nadjiwon, chief of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, on the eastern, Georgian Bay side of the peninsula, also declined to comment before the court decision is given.

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In the news release announcing the near deal, Anoquot said of the Saugeen Shores discussions, “We look forward to continuing to move forward with our neighbours in the spirit of cooperation.”

Head Councillor Anthony Chegahno of Nawash, at Neyaashiinigmiing, said “These talks are a positive step towards reconciliation and part of building strong relationships with local governments in our traditional territory.”

Asked what is claimed in Saugeen Shores, SON lawyer Cathy Guirguis provided no specifics.

She said SON says that the Crown, namely Canada and Ontario, breached its fiduciary duty to SON by “taking a surrender of the Saugeen Peninsula, and in the manner of how they took a surrender of the Saugeen Peninsula.”

Before it was the Bruce Peninsula, the land was called Saugeen Peninsula.

“As a remedy, SON will be seeking a constructive trust over lands still held by the Crown, or lands that weren’t bought and paid for before the claim was launched,” including road and shore road allowances.

That would mean SON “will be seeing that the court find the lands defined in the claim are held in trust for SON,” during a later phase of the claim, Guirguis said.

On July 5, SON issued a news release which announced the Superior Court’s decision was expected by the end of this month, which Guirguis reiterated Thursday.

SON is seeking a declaration that the Crown breached its duty, which is the only question to be answered by the decision this month, according to that SON release.

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If successful, in a later phase of the claim, SON would look for recognition of its ownership interests in those lands on the peninsula still owned by Canada and Ontario, those not bought and paid for by third parties, including municipal roads, as well as compensation.

The trial began on April 23, 2019, presided over by Justice Wendy Matheson. Most of the trial took place in a Toronto courtroom with some early days of hearings held locally at Saugeen First Nation and at Neyaashiinigmiing, also known as Cape Croker. Closing arguments were held virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in October 2020.

Six municipalities were also named, including South Bruce Peninsula, Northern Bruce Peninsula, Saugeen Shores, Georgian Bluffs, Bruce County and Grey County over municipal road allowances and shore road allowances they received from the Crown without paying for them.

Last September, Grey County announced it had settled with SON on its portion of the claim, which included the transfer of 275 acres of Grey County forest in Georgian Bluffs at Mountain Lake.

The claim filed in 1994 seeks $80 billion in compensation, plus $10 billion in punitive damages.

The land claim is based on an alleged breach of fiduciary duty by the Crown. The breach alleged is about the Crown’s conduct leading up to and ultimately its taking a surrender of the peninsula in 1854, when Treaty 72 was signed, Guirguis said. That’s when most of the peninsula was opened to non-aboriginal settlement.

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SON’s claim seeks the return of the approximately 10 per cent of land on the peninsula still owned by the Crown, an SON newsletter said, including the national parks, all lake and rivers, road and shore allowances, and compensation for loss of use of the land and in lieu of privately held land. No private land is claimed.

The second part of the claim, brought in 2003 and merged with the original 1994 peninsula claim, seeks aboriginal title to portions of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay waterbeds in the full traditional territory from Tobermory to Goderich to Collingwood.

It includes no dry land, just the portions of waters offshore of those lands. No inland lakebeds or riverbeds in the SON traditional territory are claimed, other than some on the peninsula if they are Crown lands and subject to the Treaty 72 claim.

SON’s legal action seeks a court order clarifying no hunting or fishing rights were extinguished under Treaty 72.

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