The Saugeen Ojibway Nation claims ownership of government land across the entire Bruce Peninsula and a legally unique claim for title over the ‘water territory’ around it
TORONTO — A massive Aboriginal claim over some of the most picturesque geography in Ontario triggered a landmark trial Thursday, with a large contingent of lawyers politely starting a delicate dance over contentious issues of land, treaty rights and money.
The Saugeen Ojibway Nation is pressing a claim to ownership of government land across the entire Bruce Peninsula and a legally unique claim for Aboriginal title over the “water territory” around it — stretching from the international boundary with the United States in Lake Huron across to Georgian Bay — along with compensation that could amount, by their accounting, to $90 billion.
A passel of more than 20 lawyers hauled suitcases and boxes filled with paperwork into court; laptops were connected to projection screens and huge maps unfurled as dozens of observers gathered in a stately courthouse in downtown Toronto.
Before Judge Wendy Matheson arrived, two Aboriginal men wended their way through the bustle to the front of court carrying a two-metre long wooden staff, draped in seven eagle feathers and topped by a carving of a bald eagle, and erected it to the left of where the judge would sit.
That the hearing began just one minute shy of its scheduled 10 a.m. start was remarkable, but not as breathtaking as the dispute everyone was here to settle.