Wiky, Sheg First Nation at odds over Heywood claim

by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOULIN—The Expositor’s chat with re-elected Sheguiandah First Nation Chief Orville Aguonie in the October 26 edition prompted an anonymous note to be left in the editorial office, urging staff to take a closer look at Sheguiandah First Nation’s claims on Heywood Island.

Currently, Heywood falls under the jurisdiction of the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands, but a phone call to Wikwemikong’s Chief Hazel Fox-Recollet revealed that despite Mr. Aguonie’s and Sheguiandah First Nation’s claims on the island, Wikwemikong, too says the isle just east of Strawberry Island is rightfully theirs. In fact, Chief Hazel Fox-Recollet added, a claim was put forward for Heywood Island in the mid-1970s by the late Chief Ron Wakegijig.

The chief is quick to say, however, she hopes not to make this an issue between the communities and said she plans to extend an invitation to meet with Chief Aguonie and council to discuss how the two communities can resolve the issue and “find out what their history, in terms of oral history to the land, is.”

“We do officially have title to the island,” Chief Hazel Fox-Recollet said. “I hope Sheg would refrain from moving forward with any projects. I would hate for them to invest funds with anything to do with the island.”

Chief Aguonie said he would gladly meet with Wikwemikong chief and council, but it won’t change his position. Sheguiandah First Nation has already begun clearing plots of land on the island and no trespassing signs erected on the shore indicates the community’s claim.

“It doesn’t really matter who files the claim,” the Sheguiandah First Nation chief said. “We have records that show Sheguiandah amalgamated with French River #13, with government approval of the day, and utilized many islands as they traveled back in forth, including Heywood. That’s historical fact right there.”

The chief added that the late Sheguiandah elder Gabe Waindubence and his family also lived on the island for a time.

Mr. Waindubence’s wife, Clara, confirmed this, saying that one summer she, her husband and their eldest child spent a summer on Heywood, peeling bark off pulpwood for the Espanola paper mill. A number of Sheguiandah First Nation residents would summer there during the 1950s, sharing a cabin and a stove, Ms. Waindubence recalled, also working to peel bark on pulpwood. She was the cook her one and only summer on Heywood.

“There was no hydro and we had to travel to Little Current to get groceries and I’m not too fond of water,” she added, noting the gusting winds and cross currents that sometime form on the big water surrounding the island. “I hated to leave when we did go home.”

“We maintain that it’s our and we’ve already started clearing the land,” Chief Aguonie added. “If Wiky had any claim to it, they would have already been there by now. This is our land and we’re asserting our jurisdiction over it.”

The chief said he would also be seeking help from the United Chiefs and Council of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM) on the matter.