May 10, 2020 : Comments Galore!
Over the last week or so we have received several hundred messages and comments on the SCOI website.
Thanks to those who have shared thoughts and made constructive suggestions. We appreciate that many of you are accepting of the situation, supportive of the Band and the SFN community and patient enough/willing to wait this thing out at home. Many of you are frustrated, disappointed, even angry. Some messages have threatened legal action while others would easily be classified as bullying or racist. Some of you have been fined for going to your cottages.
Cottages are an emotional thing, and we accept that. Nobody wants to get to the cottage more than we do.
There have been way too many messages for us to post everything that is presentable. But we do want to acknowledge that we have received your input and appreciate that you have taken the time to contribute to our overall understanding of what SCOI members care about.
The main issues can be categorized into one of 5 themes
Over the past couple of weeks we have also received specific questions/comments that, at the time, were one-offs. They were asking something very specific and we have tried to answer these by communicating directly with the person making the submission.
We apologize that this post will be a bit long, but hope that, for us, it clears off a fair bit of the backlog and for you, helps you get caught up and not have to go fishing for information as it comes out in bits. So as of today, this is what we know or understand too be the situation.
1. Premier Ford's Comments
Over the past two weeks there has been a lot of press about Premier Ford telling cottage owners that it is OK for them to go to their cottage if they follow the guidelines – take everything with you, stay at your cottage and do not invite others to join you. We received a very large number of comments asking why this didn’t also apply to them and as many asking why the Band wouldn’t follow the Premier’s lead by opening up on the May long weekend.
The Saugeen First Nation falls under Federal jurisdiction and, unlike neighbouring municipalities, is not subject to Provincial edict. That is why the Band can fine people for coming to their cottage while adjoining municipalities cannot. From the outset the Band has taken its guidance from the Grey Bruce Medical Officer of Health and Dr Ara’s advice for cottagers has been consistent – Stay Home.
The Chief’s comments on Facebook yesterday suggested that the Band is looking at allowing cottagers to go to their cottages sometime in June. He quoted stats from the MOH that are creating this optimism. Grey Bruce has had no new cases of COVID19 in the past 4 days. All previous cases have been resolved and there are no hospitalizations.
And then this morning we received an e-mail for an SFN cottage owner who lives in Southampton. This what she wrote:
“The cottage driveways in Southampton & Sauble Beach not leased land/municipal properties all have cars even plural in driveways. No one is abiding by Ford’s request . A bunch of irresponsible dummies! We have cottager’s on our Street that pulled in last night from Windsor and London. I saw one just come back from shopping at our Independent in Port Elgin. So they didn’t bring their own supplies. What can you do?”
So if we have something to worry about, it is the large numbers of cottagers going to their cottages in the neighbouring municipalities who appear to be disregarding the guidelines.
The worry is not that they get to go and we don’t. The worry is that they are disregarding the guidelines. If there is a bump in the COVID19 cases in Grey Bruce because these people are being stupid, the Band is sure to keep their own cottagers away.
With SFN cottagers going to their cottages in spite of getting fined no one would blame the Band if it felt it could not trust its own cottagers to follow the guidelines. No one else seems to be.
Fingers crossed and let’s hope the Grey Bruce COVID19 stats stay where they are.
2. Confusion over Service Fee and Lease Payment deadlines
We received a large number of “acknowledgements” of our posts about the changes to due dates for both Lease payments and Service Fee payments. It turns out that there were no formal changes made to the due dates, other than Band Council’s 60 day extension for Service Fee payment which had been reported mush earlier.
Our assumption has been that the deadline was the due date appearing on the invoices we received.
The Band’s interpretation, at least this year when the offices are closed, is that payment can be made anytime during the month in which the payment is due.
So for this year the Lease payment must be in the Band’s hands by May31st and the Service Fee payment by June 30th.
We understand that most people worked hard to make sure they had their fees in on time and many of you could have used another month of grace period.
We have made a note for late winter 2021 February 2021), to check with the Band on the exact dates they expect to receive payment.
3. Local Contractor Access
The SOE (State of Emergency) restriction on contractors working on Band land was lifted yesterday by the Chief and Band Council (please see our May 8 post).
We are very appreciative of this decision as many cottagers had become concerned specifically about scheduled septic installations and other jobs they had contracted out.
There were many more concerned about being behind on yard maintenance. So local contractors are allowed to return to work on Band Lands, but cottagers cannot be there when the work is being done. We have posted a short list of yard maintenance and tree services contractors sent in by cottage owners. If there are others you would recommend please let us know.
A restriction for general plumbers is still in place because the Band does not yet want cottage water systems turned on. This is to prevent cottagers from assuming, if the water is on, they can go to the cottage.
We have received a number of comments about this, pointing out that it will take a 2-3 weeks for plumbers to turn all the cottage water systems on. So if plumbers are prevented from turning water systems on until cottagers can return, there will be a lot of people waiting a while for water even though they are now able to come back to their cottage.
We believe this is a valid comment and we have written to the Band to ask that Chief and Council review the need to give plumbers access 2-3 weeks before cottagers are allowed to return. It is basically a question of the Band trusting that cottagers will not return the minute their water is turned on.
So far cottagers that insist on going to their cottages without permission (and getting fined) are not helping us make our case. It would certainly be a good thing if everyone stayed home next weekend.
4. SCOI’s role
There have been quite a few cottagers take exception to SCOI’s role during this State of Emergency. We have declared that it is our role to liaise with the Band. This includes the Chief and Council as well as key members of the Band’s senior staff. At the outset we did advocate for those cottage owners with no other Canadian residence and the Band was very willing to allow them to remain in the their cottages as long as they adhered to quarantine/isolation and social distancing requirements. However, we have mostly been liaising with the Band to understand what they were asking of SFN cottagers. We in turn then did our best to communicate the Band’s directives and the implications of those directives to cottage owners.
Over the SOE period we have had cottage owners angry that we are not being more forceful in presenting a strong case for cottage owners to be allowed to return to their cottages. Previously we have said that we have not been and will not advocate for anything that would create a risk for the SFN community. All of the expert medical advice was for cottagers to stay home in communities better able to cope with a covid19 outbreak. SCOI not only accepted these recommendations but promoted them. We too see ourselves a members of the Saugeen community with a responsibility to help keep it safe. Basically SFN cottagers had a safer place to be than at their cottage. Safer for everyone. This was not about ‘me’. It was about ‘us’.
We have also had quite a few cottage owners suggesting that we should be asking cottagers to lobby their local MP for adjustments on the service fee and lease amount. Some have written to these folks on their own. We are not really sure why they think that was a good idea. Any previous outings SCOI has had with (then) Indian Affairs and the Department of Justice have gone nowhere and those were not with a Government more engaged in reconciliation that any of its predecessors. A more important consideration would be the impact that such an end run would have on the Band, on our relationship with the Band and what impression it might create in the last year of our current lease looking forward to either a lease extension or a new lease.
We know people are frustrated, but we need to give a little credit to the medical people who are providing the advice and to the Band leadership for knowing what is best for the Band. They are coping very well without SCOI beating on them.
That said, we advocate for cottagers every day. Yesterday it was for garbage collection for the cottagers who do have permission be at their cottages. Today it will be to get plumbers back on the job so we have water when we do get to go to the cottage.
5. Direct communication from the Band to Cottage owners
For a few years now SCOI has asked the Band to communicate more and directly with cottage owners. This has become more apparent in the last 2 or 3 years as the Band has undertaken initiatives to help it transition to the First Nations Land Management Act. The septic system upgrade project under the Provincial Groundwater Protection Act is a good example. SCOI held a Septic System Information Meeting in the summer of 2018 where over 350 cottagers showed up. We have posted all kinds of information on the SCOI website about this. The problem is that not every SFN cottage owner is a member of SCOI and not all cottage owners subscribe to the SCOI website. This year alone the SCOI website subscription list has grown from just over 300 to just over 700. SCOI membership is also growing, now at 688. There are about 1240 land lease holders.
We do know that most of the 1200+ lease holders talk to their cottage neighbours and for the most part do get some of the messaging. But everyone is vulnerable if they rely one second hand sources.
We feel responsible for getting pertinent information out to you. And we look for input so we can give the Band feedback.
There is a fairly large group of cottage owners who see our information as “fake news” and they certainly aren’t going to spend $10k on a new septic system based on what is written on the SCOI website. There is also a large subset of this group who chooses to do nothing because the band did not tell them directly and they aren’t going to go and ask the band because it might cost them $10k.
We now have the same problem with cottagers going to their cottage – “the Band didn’t tell me directly I couldn’t go.”
There is also a large group who choose not to even read the annual Land Management brochure when it comes out each year. Although it comes directly from the Band, cottagers still can’t seem to sort their recyclables according to the instructions provided.
Enough said. A one-way email system with all cottage owners’ would probably be the most efficient. SCOI will continue to press the Band to move in this direction.
Thanks for your attention. Keep those cards and letters coming.
Happy Mothers’ Day!