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Naaneebweque's grave is not stopping development this time

OWEN SOUND, Ontario ? Four years, after a similar project was derailed by the grave of an 'Indian Princess,' a developer is moving ahead with a 2,000-home project on a shoreline property north of Owen Sound.

'We hope to have a shovel in the ground next spring,'' said Dorothy Telford spokesperson and development consultant for Georgian Villas.

But a local Native chief says a lot of matters have yet to be resolved.

'Our concerns are the same now as they were then (in 1997). We have not given sanctions for this development,'' Chippewas of Nawash Chief Ralph Akiwenzie said.

The site is of 'great historical importance'' because of the grave of Naaneebweque, one of the first Native land claim advocates, said Akiwenzie from the Cape Croker reserve about 15 miles to the north of the site.

Naaneebweque was the daughter of an Ojibwa chief, who married William Sutton, an English missionary, and adopted the name Catharine.

In 1857, the Suttons' land parcel in what is now Georgian Bluffs was declared subject to the British government's Indian department's ruling disallowing land ownership by Indian people.

Dubbed an 'Indian Princess' by the British press, Sutton went to England in 1860 to protest to Queen Victoria.

The project on the property that Naaneebweque was not allowed to own because of her Ojibwa heritage is slated to include a golf course, a 200-room hotel, a village core and a marina.

'It will be an eco-tourism destination for people from as far away as Europe,'' Telford said.

Akiwenzie points out that several other Native burial sites have been identified on the 240-acre property.

'We have serious concerns about access for our people. These are our ancestral homelands so we also need access for ceremonial purposes, once walls go up we could lose that forever,'' Akiwenzie said.

The present developer is Willis McLeese, who owns Colmac Holdings Ltd. which develops, owns and operates co-generation and alternative energy electric power generating plants in Canada and California.

McLeese has kept the Nawash band 'apprised'' of his plans for Georgian Villas.

'But that doesn't mean we've given formal approval,'' said Akiwenzie who has agreed to meet with McLeese within the month.

McLeese commissioned an archeological survey of the property in 1999, which identified 15 Native heritage sites on the property, Telford said.

'But ground-probing radar didn't indicate there are remains there,'' Telford said.

She added that the Natives didn't want the sites excavated to determine if human remains are present.

'They wanted them left as they are,'' she said.

The 15 sites will be preserved and a marker erected indicating that artifacts from Native habitation were found there. 'We'll put shrubbery around them or build little bridges across, but what we don't want to do is fence them off,'' Telford said.

She said the project built in a Niagara-on-the-Lake architectural style will rival in scope the $500-million Intrawest village presently being built at Blue Mountain about 65 kilometers to the east, although she doubts the price tag will be anywhere near as high.

'They have to put in very expensive underground parking because they are putting in two thousand condos on 38 acres, we don't need to do that because we've got 600 acres,'' Telford said.

Developer Sheldon Rosen of the Toronto-based SDR group and Title-Bellinson cited concern about Naaneebweque's grave and other possible native burial sites on the property as one of the reasons they didn't proceed with the project in 1997.

But Telford said she is confident that with the spirit of cooperation between McLeese and the Nawash band, the development will proceed and will include an interpretive center focused on the site's Native and white pioneer history.

'We have worked very closely with the chief and the elders,'' Telford said.

Akiwenzie said his people fear that such a big development will have a big impact on the environment and possibly on the Native fishery.

'With something of that magnitude we have to make sure that all the requirements are met to ensure the environment is protected,'' Akiwenzie said.

The development, which will take a decade to complete, will retain 65 per cent green space and will be very environmentally friendly, Telford said.

McLeese has applied to Grey County Council for an official plan amendment to allow the project and presently is completing the required traffic, fish habitat and environment impact studies to meet provincial standards.