Ontario seeking input towards resolution of Wiky islands claim

OTTAWA—An opportunity for the public to comment on the disposition of Crown lands in the western Georgian Bay region as part of the Wiikwemkoong Islands Reserve Boundary Claim opened on June 12 and will run until August 11.

The initial claim had run aground in the face of an overlapping claim by the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM), but the challenges presented by that issue have largely been set aside, allowing the Wiikwemkoong negotiations to proceed.

“The federal government is back in,” said Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier. Success in the negotiations would inevitably require the federal government to be at the table.

A communication from Alison McLaren, senior negotiator for the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs gave a progress update on the process. “At this time, I am writing to inform you about the progress made on these negotiations to date,” she wrote. “The parties have identified a package of proposed settlement lands which may be transferred to Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory as part of the settlement of the claim.” The claim encompasses islands off the eastern shore of Manitoulin Island and proposes to transfer Crown land to the band in lieu of those lands under claim that had been patented (sold to private interests). The proposed settlement lands are located in the Districts of Killarney and Sudbury, as well as unorganized townships.

There are two alternative proposals contained in the Draft Environmental Study Report the public is being asked for input on. The first is that the province not pursue a negotiated settlement of the claim, leaving matters to be resolved in the courts, or that the settlement lands be renegotiated. Under the second proposal, public use of the settlement lands might occur with the authorization of Wiikwemkoong.

The band has been exploring possible economic development potential for the settlement lands and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Town of Killarney on working together for mutual benefit on that development.

“Ontario will not take away private property from third parties to settle land claims,” affirms Ms. McLaren in her letter to whom it may concern. “Existing Crown land uses are taken into consideration during the negotiations and we are committed to maintaining an open process for information sharing with interested parties as negotiations proceed.”

General information on the land claims and the negotiations process is available on the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs website at Ontario.ca/aboriginal/land-claim-negotiation-process.