On October 29th, 2013, Darlene Necan, elected spokesperson of the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen no. 258, was issued issued a stop work order by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources for building a house on land where her family grew up, on off-reserve Saugeen territory (unorganized Indian settlement land).
In August 2013, Necan and community members had begun building a plywood house in Savant Lake, Saugeen territory in order for her to have a home for the winter and an office/gathering place to help her lead a struggle for housing and equal rights for off-reserve members of her community.
This building was supported by the Indigenous Commission of the International League of People’s Struggles, many grassroots activists, and several locals of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Necan was finishing the roof of the plywood house when MNR handed her an order demanding she abide by their rules for building on Crown land.
They demanded that she sign papers stating that she needed a permit. However, Necan told them “I don’t need a permit to build on my own land, where I grew up, where I had my babies. I was given this area by my auntie, headman of Saugeen Indian Tribe no.258. She said, this is where you guys grew up, so go ahead, use it. And that was a verbal (agreement) between Nishnabek.”
The MNR’s assertion of land in Savant Lake as being Crown land surprised many residents. “They said this is the Township of Savant Lake, this is Crown land. That just blew me away. We Nishnabeks here know this area as an Unorganized Indian Settlement land of Savant Lake. Now they are saying it is Crown land and a township. There is no Mayor, no councillors. There is no town office,” said Necan.
Other Saugeen Nishnabe build in the Savant Lake area, without permits. She asks, “Why is it they are bothering me about the area in which we grew up on, all of a sudden as Crown land? I was born here, I lived here. Why would I start signing permits to live on my own land?”
Necan explains that her relationship with the MNR mirrors that of many other Nishnabe people in Northern Ontario. “Ever since I have stood up as a grassroots activist, we have always butted heads with them. They say this is Crown land. We say this is Nishnabe land. So anything that Nishnabe does here, they’re always here right away with their papers, pressing fines. Because I’m here in the North, standing up, I’m easy pickings. I don’t say that to feel sorry for myself, but with how I stand here defending the land, sticking up to them, going up to them and speaking my mind, it seems like they are always after me and watching me. Finding anything they can charge me with.”
Necan feels cornered by the provincial and federal government, at every step on her journey. “Meanwhile, I am trying to stand on my own feet. I am trying to build my own house. I am trying to get off the welfare system. I am trying to create employment. Because I see things differently ever since I sobered up, as a Nishnabe in my own land. That’s why I’ve been following my own path as to dealing with things that I feel are not right.”
For many years, Necan has been fighting for housing for off-reserve members of her community.
In 2011, she led a 28 day walk from Savant Lake to Ottawa to draw attention to the issue of intolerable housing conditions. Faced with continued inaction from local, regional and national leaders, Necan and other community members decided they had to take action themselves.
Without institutional or government support, they came together in the dead of winter to build a log cabin for Amelia Skunk, an elder in the community who was suffering frostbite year after year due to living in a building originally built as a chicken barn in 1911.
If she continues work on her house and office, MNR will fine her $200 a day up to $10,000.
Necan will not back down. “I’m going to continue. I am being encouraged by the people to continue. It’s going to start to snow and the wood will get wet and swell up, if I abide by the stop work order. But there is MNR driving by, watching, so that they can lay their charges on me. We’re almost done the roof, the shingles and everything.”
In continuing their support of Necan’s grassroots leadership in a struggle for homes and sovereignty for Saugeen people, the Indigenous Commission of the International League of People’s Struggles is calling on supporters to stand with Darlene Necan as she asserts her right to build and live on her land.
To be in touch with Darlene Necan and the ILPS Indigenous Commission email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.facebook.com/ilpsindigenouscommissioncabinbuild.