Chief Randall Kahgee discusses First Nations history with Bruce Power executives
An ongoing cross-cultural dialogue, mutual respect and an understanding of the values of the First Nations will help our area and the country move forward, says the Chief of the Saugeen First Nation.
“The First Nations people need to share our history and generate an understanding and respect between our cultures,” Chief Randall Kahgee told Bruce Power executives and employees during an informative lunch meeting on April 16.
Chief Kahgee spoke about the history of the Saugeen Ojibway Nations (SON) and European settlers. SON is comprised of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, at Cape Croker, and the Saugeen First Nation, north of Southampton.
The Chief outlined how the European settlers – mainly the British Crown – felt they had the authority to assume lands and the people on them when they ‘discovered’ a new continent. Originally, they were willing to form a relationship with North America’s 26 Aboriginal nations, including SON, in forming the 1763 Treaty of Niagara, which articulated the relationship between the First Nations and Crown, which agreed to respect but not interfere with each other.
“Every decision we make is done to ensure our future generations will be protected and can maintain their relationship with the land, water and natural resources,” the Chief said, adding this was the key to the 1763 Treaty with the First Nations, all of which had their own elaborate and intricate laws and government systems.
Then, in 1836, the Crown approached SON about expanding Upper Canada into its territory, which runs from the western tip of the Bruce Peninsula to south of Goderich, east to the Shelburne area and north to Collingwood, while also including the waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. The result of this meeting was Treaty 45 ½, named such because the Crown representative only brought a half a piece of paper. Again, the crux of the agreement would allow settlers to enter the area while the First Nations maintained their natural relationships with the land, water and resources, the Chief said, while it was agreed no settlement could occur on what is now known as the Bruce Peninsula.
“There is no single word in my language that is similar to ‘surrender,’ we always worked on the concept of sharing,” Chief Kahgee said, emphasizing the Treaty did not give the lands to the Crown.
Soon after, the Crown began to break this agreement and settle the northern reaches of the territory, which was rich with timber. Realizing settlement on their lands could no longer be prevented, despite the assurances of Treaties, SON negotiated Treaty 72 in 1854, which agreed that all funds raised by the sale of territorial lands had to be placed in a trust for the betterment of the SON, while the communal lands – originally Owen Sound for the Nawash Unceded First Nation, but later Cape Croker, and Saugeen First Nation – were not up for discussion.
One common misunderstanding, Chief Kahgee explained, is today when Nawash and Saugeen are called ‘Reserves,’ which is inaccurate. Reserves are lands taken up by the Crown and then given out at a rate of one acre per family of four, with the Crown retaining the underlying title on the land. Nawash Unceded and Saugeen First Nations are communal lands and belong to the people of SON, he said.
Once again, the agreements of Treaty 72 were broken, and today are the basis of two claims working their way through the legal system. SON is looking to have its rights to the lake re-established, as the lakebed was never part of the dialogue with the Crown, while also seeking restitution for broken promises, because the Crown failed to protect the First Nations’ relationship with the historical territory. The Crown also received less than market value on land sales and abused and misspent funds from the trust that was meant to improve the life of SON members, the Chief said.
In 2004, the Supreme Court handed down two decisions that have set a new path for First Nations in Canada. It recognized the relationship was broken and must be fixed, and also the Crown is obligated to seek consent and accommodate First Nations when decisions regarding their relationship with land, water and natural resources can be affected.
“This was a monumental shift in Canada’s way of thinking,” said Chief Kahgee, who holds a law degree at the University of Toronto. “The days of unilateral decision-making by the government are done, and this will help with the reconciliation process the First Nation and Crown need to go through.”
The Chief said Bruce Power and the SON are also working towards reconciliation, which stem from a long legacy the company inherited in 2001.
“This facility was forced upon our people 50 years ago, but I believe the reconciliation between Bruce Power and my community has started to move forward. If corporations like Bruce Power involve First Nations in their processes then we can make informed decisions that will not negatively impact our relationship with the land, water and natural resources. Consent is the highest form of accommodation, and I think Bruce Power and SON have moved the yardsticks forward.”
The Chief said his people are not anti-development, but must ensure all decisions protect the rights of future generations.
“When I’ve completed my journey, my great-great-grandchildren will still have a territory they can define.”
Duncan Hawthorne, Bruce Power President and CEO, said the company’s goal is to build a model relationship with SON that other corporations can emulate.