In a victory for the Land Back movement, on April 4 it was ruled by Justice Susan Vella of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that “… the entirety of Sauble beach belongs – and has always belonged, to Saugeen First Nation.”
This decision came after more than 30 years of litigation for a land claim by the Saugeen First Nation that reaches back nearly 170 years.
Sauble Beach, set on Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes of North America and bounded by the US state of Michigan on the north and by Ontario on the east, is a popular tourist destination and is the second-longest freshwater beach globally.
However, beyond recreation, the shoreline, known to Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation as “Chi-Gmiinh,” is a valuable fishing ground vital to their livelihoods, reserved for the Nation’s people under Treaty 72 drawn up in 1854.
The legal ruling adds more than 1.4 miles of shoreline to the First Nation boundary that the Town of South Bruce Peninsula claimed ownership to, having fought against the claim from Chippewas of Saugeen First Nations for decades.
Despite this, Justice Vella found the Town of South Bruce Peninsula’s claim invalid, ruling that no third parties have any interest in this land, other than Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation for whom it “was and continues to be reserved for the sole use and benefit.”
Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation response to the Sauble Beach land claim decision. pic.twitter.com/4sAfVvl5ts
— Jessie Lorraine (@jessielorraine) April 4, 2023
Future court proceedings are still to investigate any outlying damages owed to Saugeen First Nation by the Federal Government for failing to protect and preserve their land rights under the 1854 Treaty.
Saugeen First Nation Chief Conrad Ritchie responds to the ruling in a Facebook Media release saying:
“This is a huge victory for our community and our people. We have been fighting to have the beach recognized as part of our reserve for generations. The beach is central to our way of life and, out of all our vast traditional territory, this is the land our ancestors chose to reserve for their future generations. And finally that has been confirmed by the Court. The judge was clear that the entire beach is [and] always has been part of our reserve.”
Whilst in a statement on the Town of South Bruce Peninsula’s website, Mayor Gary Michi states:
“… this is a complex issue that requires time to formalize a position. Council understands how important this issue is to the Town and thanks all residents in advance for your patience.”
A mediated settlement offered to the Town of South Bruce Peninsula in 2014 would have seen the ownership of Sauble Beach turned over to Saugeen First Nation, whilst still ensuring public access. The Town turned it down.
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Chief Ritchie also discloses that there is a second land claim upcoming, dealing with compensation for past losses of land.
“I think [this case] can set the precedent for other Nations,” adding, “hopefully it helps the movement of all those land claims.”
The 4,500-member Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) has achieved previous successes in protecting land rights, notably through their “G’ganoonigonaa Zaagigan | The Lake Is Speaking to Us” campaign.
Biidaabinokwe (of Neyaashiinigmiing) and Waasekom (of Saugeen), two grassroots members of the SON, launched the campaign to advocate for the inclusion of the Water in nuclear power and waste decisions in their home territory.
“Project Description: Water has rights that must be understood and respected. G’ganoonigonaa Zaagigan – The Lake is Speaking To Us – is an action-oriented initiative that facilitates inclusion and taking guidance from Nibi-Manidoo, the Great Water Spirit, in our governance and decision-making processes. Through honouring, ceremony, listening, gathering, building awareness and advocacy our goal is to ensure Water is cared for, heard and respected. We recognize our deep connection and reciprocal relationship with Water who also has agency and for whom we depend on for life and sustenance. G’ganoonigonaa Zaagigan is an expression of our individual and collective Sacred responsibilities to Water.”
The project looked to protect Lake Huron’s ecosystemic health and well being, intending to deter the request for consent to land use submitted to SON by Ontario Power Generation (OPG).
It would have allowed for a Deep Geological Repository (DGR) to be built 1km away from the lakeshore, containing 200,000m3 of nuclear waste that would remain radioactive for 100,000 to 1,000,000 years.
Asserting that Anishinaabe notions of consent surpass the standard Free, Prior and Informed Consent principles (FPIC) recognised by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), SON announced in January 2020 that 85% of casting ballots had rejected the request with 170 for and 1058 against.
SON said in response to the outcome:
“We were not consulted when the nuclear industry was established in our territory … Over the past forty years, nuclear power generation in Anishnaabekiing has had many impacts on our communities, and our land and waters, including the production and accumulation of nuclear waste.”
However, these successes do not stop the ever-encroaching and inexhaustive attempted violations of Indigenous and First Nation land rights, in conjunction with the inaction of colonial governments who refuse to make the reparations necessary for social and environmental justice.
The Legacy of the Land
The fact is, the Land Back movement, in every form and scale it takes, is beneficial not only to the Indigenous Peoples to whom their stolen land holds critical interest, but for the entire planet.
Making up just 5% of the world’s population and about 15% of the world’s most impoverished, Indigenous Peoples conserve 80% of the world’s surviving biodiversity. A task they should not have to sustain by themselves.
This is why we should all stand in solidarity for the movement; all progressions towards Land Back are a win for the planet. However, most importantly of all, for the people to whom the land rightly and justly belongs.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Sauble Beach. Featured Photo Credit: appaIoosa