MNR tries to stop grassroots home building in “unorganized Indian settlement land”

Darlene working plywoodhouse

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.

PlywoodCabinThey 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 or go to

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  1. that needs to be done more just go an build something on land a developer wants to build on..what should be done is collect from mnr by taking thier car or truck when they go there…but we all know how crooked the courts can be to native ppl…but good luck…

  2. This is an outrage! An example of how our government wastes our money on totally unjustified activities, while harassing an innocent woman, who’s just wanting to build a house on her own land. Hang in there, Darlene! Sending you love and energy for a peaceful resolution to this situation…

  3. awesome your a brave woman! Who else would do it eh? Nishanabe Kwewog, the backbone of the men and i am with you woman. Miigwetch for your bravery!!

  4. What is wrong with the government, instead of spending money on lawyer, why not have an architecture technologist from the building office go out and inspect it to make sure it is in accordance to the OBC, it looks like a small structure, and looks fine, I’ve seen things built in NB which weren’t to code – yet got permits just fine.

    Send someone out, would take an afternoon to do up a drawing for the plan of that box, then send her the paperwork and permit for the little house.

    Problem solved, and no big expenses on any sides.

    1. Exactly–if the problem is that the building is not verified to be in compliance with the Building Code of Canada, it’s an easy problem to fix (since the construction looks to be fine anyway, you’d just need a building official to check it out). If the problem is with a Land Use or Development Permit because of it supposedly being on Crown Land, that could be a stickier issue. Unfortunately I can’t find in any of the articles exactly which type of permit the Ontario Gov’t is asking for.

  5. Stand strong, stand as Nishnabe. Provincial or Federal, makes no difference, they will keep trying, arguing different points, crown land or township. When they finally make up their minds on what they are trying to argue the court will throw it out. They will never learn to leave Indigenous Peoples alone. As long as you are trying to make your life and others better there will be help found everywhere, MNR thinks they know better? why don’t they help instead of trying to hinder. Instead of driving by every day to record their fines, they should get out of the car and lend a helping hand, like a good neighbor should.

  6. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources can fine her all they want. They have no standing. Crown land is under Federal jurisdiction. Treaty and aboriginal affairs are under federal jurisdiction. When this gets to court the province will have no priority and it’ll get thrown out. MNR will only end up paying court costs and everyone’s lawyer bills for this SLAPP suit. Further they will have a precedent set against them for further challenging First Nation rights.

    1. True. so true…….and MNR will also likely have to pay for damages caused by their harassment. MNR has no jurisdiction whatsoever on this land…I have seen these tactics in the past in regards to people practicing their right to fish…..In 95% of the cases, MNR lost and ended up paying for lawyer fees, lost wages (in some cases) and damages.

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