A primer on the Grand River Valley since 1784

Following the American Revolution the remnants of the Five Nations Rotinohsyonni Confederacy took refuge in the Grand River Valley, 70 miles south of Toronto, Canada.

Also known as the League of the Five Nations, the confederacy’s historical status was enshrined as those “Indian savages” described in the American Declaration of Independence — arguably the savages at whom the revolt was aimed. While there is some dispute about the actual Rotinohsyonni land claims, the Confederacy is regarded in the Nanfan 1701 and Fort Stanwix 1768 treaties as controlling underlying land title to a vast territory, which includes southern Ontario, New York State, northern Ohio, and northern Pennsylvania. Rotinohsyonni land falls within the land base described in Nanfan — the Great Lakes watershed. Some historians have written that the Five Nations Confederacy’s influence ranged from the Mississippi to Manhattan before smallpox and other diseases ravaged their society.

After the American Revolution Rotinohsyonni lands between Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Huron south of the Niagara escarpment were defined under the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784. The Rotinohsyonni and other tribes loyal to the British ‘Haldimand’ land base evolved over time. Originally, the tract ranged from Burlington, Ontario, along the Niagara escarpment verging on Georgian Bay. Later, the land area was identified by its amended Thames River and Grand River boundaries, extending to Lake Erie. And in 1801 the Crown unilaterally re-defined the territory as six miles on each side of the Grand River from its mouth to its source.

This area is approximately 900,000 acres beginning near Dundalk, Ontario, and ending at Dunnville, Ontario. During the early 1800s the Rotinohsyonni 900,000 acre Grand River Valley territory reduced in size through suspicious land leases and forced removal. The Rotinohsyonni now live on 48,000 acres bounded by Brantford, Ontario, and the Plank Road between Caledonia and Hagersville, Ontario.

In 1924 the Canadian government seized the Rotinohsyonni League’s holdings on Six Nations Indian Reserve No. 40. Operating under section 74(1) of 5 the Indian Act, the Canadian government installed an ‘elected council’ while refusing to recognize the Confederacy in subsequent years.

Canada’s relationship to Rotinohsyonni people can currently be described as fiduciary in nature. For example the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a religious sect within the League, holds sanction under Canadian law to conduct funerals and weddings.                                                                                         In the late 1700s colonization began in the Grand River watershed by immigrants of primarily English and Dutch ancestry. The use of dams to divert water and the use of the Grand River as a waterway improved the feasibility of developing the region’s forest industry. From Dunnville on Lake Erie, to Dundalk near Georgian Bay, the oak and maple savanna was largely strip forested in the 1800s. This forestry practice reduced the Ontario whitetail deer herd and opened Ontario to farming.The farm industry ranged from cattle ranching to large-scale production of cash crops and silage. Rotinohsyonni farmers were visibly important participants in southern Ontario farming in the late 1800s. These farmers sold their goods to Settlers, such as the trade centre called Market Square near the Settler reserve in present-day Brantford, Ontario. Fruit production and tobacco became mainstays of the agricultural industry.                                                                                                                                     Concomitant with the rise of agriculture in the Grand River Valley was the move toward resource development. Primary industries included gypsum, limestone, natural gas, and petroleum. Also, a large manufacturing and commercial sector became prominent along the Grand River waterway. Secondary industry included farm machinery production, textiles and garments, and mills.

Economic development in the 1900s featured industrial and commercial cultures created in the 1800s. However, wartime-production secondary industries on the Grand River included chemical producing facilities. The service industry also increased with the population. Farming and its ancillary industries were still a driving force in the region. By the 1900s indigenous farming had diminished although Rotinohsyonni transient farm labor was a pre-dominant vocation up to the 1970s. Reduction in the tobacco industry and farm machinery production, and the desire to develop a wider economy, were outcomes of limited secondary industry development. Today, in the Brant region — an area particularly hard-hit by plant closures global economic pressures — tourism remains an important economic engine.




The map of the Grand River valley that was understood to be the land area designated under the Haldimand Pledge for the Mohawks and others of the Six Nations. In the Haldimand Proclamation the lands between lakes Erie, Huron, and Ontario was recognized as a Tract of Country for the Indigenous allies of Britain such as the Chippewas, Delawares, Tuteloes, Delawares, and Nanticokes. Submitted photo

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