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Applications of Biocapacity to Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s land claim case

Applications of Biocapacity to Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s land claim case

Kaitlin Pal

by Kaitlin Pal

Biocapacity is a metric that can be used to quantitatively measure biologically productive lands that can sustain an Ecological Footprint and is measured in global hectares (gha). It consists of components that include cropland, grazing land, forest land, fishing grounds, and built-up land. It can also be applied in a legal context as a quantitative measurement of the environment’s resources and biological productivity and is useful for assessing the environmental significance of a community or given area. My research measures the Biocapacity of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s traditional territory since it is an area involved in a land claim case. It seeks to apply Biocapacity in a legal context, calculate Biocapacity on a smaller scale, and combine geomatics with Ecological Footprint methodology to measure the biological productivity of the land associated with this legal case.

Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) is an Indigenous community located along the Saugeen River and the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. This community is involved in a land claim case involving their traditional lands and waters which are currently owned by the Canadian Federal government and the Ontario Provincial government. This claim exists regarding Treaties 45.5 and 72, in which the British Crown pushed SON to surrender their traditional territory abundant with fertile soil and agricultural land. In 1836, Treaty 45.5 involved the transfer of 1.5 million acres of land to the British Crown, with the understanding that the Crown would ensure perpetual protection of the Saugeen Peninsula. Regrettably, this commitment was not upheld, and it was breached in 1854. Consequently, within the context of this legal claim, the SON’s endeavours to secure recognition of their rightful ownership involve a formal declaration affirming that the Crown indeed reneged on its promise. SON contends that during the negotiations leading to the surrender of the Saugeen Peninsula, the Crown engaged in misleading conduct. SON seeks ownership of the land that has not been sold to third parties (e.g., municipal roads and shorelines), and financial compensation. Applications of Biocapacity to this case measure the amount of biologically productive land that could potentially be used as evidence supporting their entitlement to these lands and waters.

Figure 1: Map of SON's boundary and biocapacity
(Map produced by Kaitlin Pal using data from OLCC v. 2.0 on QGIS).

Data from the Ontario Land Cover Compilation (v. 2.0) was utilized to create a map showing SON’s claim boundaries as well as the land covers that compose the area (Figure 1).

Using data extracted from this map, the Biocapacity was calculated using parameters detailed in the Ontario Ecological Footprint Biocapacity Report. My results found that SON’s traditional territory has a Biocapacity of 4,173,902 gha spanning over 3,036,590 ha. This Biocapacity can support 594,572 people.

As Figure 2 shows, the forested areas within the territory accounted for 309,035.6433 gha of Biocapacity. These areas are predominantly composed of both sparse and dense forests. Wetlands contributed to 53,280 gha, including peat bogs, peat fens, and other wetlands. Grazing lands covered 660,944 gha, and built-up land provided 308,785 gha. The highest classes were cropland with 1,590,842.358 gha, and freshwater with 1,251,014 gha. Cropland had the highest Biocapacity of all zones that exist in the region. This is because Ontario’s farmland has a higher biological productivity due to its rich and fertile soil, and water availability. The inclusion of freshwater is representative of Anishinaabe Traditional Ecological Knowledge which should also be considered by the court. The inclusion of built-up land is evidence of colonialism, urbanization, and development's impacts on the traditional territory. Including this information in the analysis of Biocapacity provides a holistic and quantitative approach to analyzing the land after the initial dispossession and deepens the understanding of historical and contemporary land use.

Figure 2: Biocapacity of the boundaries of the SON claim, by type, in gha.

The integration of geomatics techniques in combination with Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity methodology offers a novel perspective on the ecological significance, providing additional context for legal decisions and policy discussions regarding land use, conservation, and development. As the case progresses into phase two, research on Biocapacity may be able to provide a broader understanding of the different types of land involved and its regenerative capacity. This methodology can also be used to calculate Biocapacity on a smaller, more localized scale and can be used to compare differences in Biocapacity between different communities and regions. Such calculations could benefit from local data potentially sourced from community members.

SON’s land claim case holds great historical, legal, and environmental importance which can be visualized through the integration of quantitative data using geomatics and Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity research. This research can also be applied to other legal cases or parcels of land. The quantification of a region’s Biocapacity can be used as a form of environmental assessment, which can inform a more comprehensive understanding of the territory's ecological significance.


Kaitlin Pal is an undergraduate Environmental Arts and Justice (BES) student and a peer mentor in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York University. She is interested in law, the arts, the environment, and ecological economics and works as a Project Assistant with the Ecological Footprint Initiative. Under the supervision of Director Eric Miller and Dr. Katie Kish, she completed the project "Applications of Biocapacity to Saugeen Ojibway Nation's Land Claim Case." This research was done under the CIRC Geomatics for Analyzing Climate Change Effects on Ecosystems and Human Populations Research Cluster, led by Professor Tarmo Remmel. She has presented her research at the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics 2023 Conference (CANSEE 2023).