LETTER TO THE EDITOR: How the Burtch land was transferred to the Six Nations Elected Council (SNEC)
Some people continue to be confused as to how the Burtch land was transferred to the Six Nations Elected Council (SNEC). There are those who believe the land was promised to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC). Maybe sharing my recollections will help stem the confusion.
So let’s start with that infamous meeting in Brantford when the federal/provincial government brought in their hotshot negotiator David Peterson whose job was to get the barricades on Highway 6 down. The first thing he did was put the Burtch Land, along with the Townsend and Cayuga lands, on the table. The strategy was “We’ll give you some land back if the barricades come down”. For reasons I can’t remember the HCCC/SNEC team only zeroed in on the Burtch land leaving the Townsend and Cayuga lands by the wayside as well as the Douglas Creek estates land.
Yes, Peterson said the Burtch land could be returned to the people of Six Nations. Yes, Peterson said the land could be returned under the Haldimand Proclamation. That didn’t mean the land would be returned to the HCCC as some people believe. The HCCC signed the Haldimand Proclamation on behalf of “the Mohawks and such others.”
As for the subsequent HCCC/SNEC lands table, right from the very beginning the federal/ provincial government reps made it clear they would only deal with the SNEC. That’s why when the SNEC turned the lead on Douglas Creek and getting the barricades down over to the HCCC, the federal/provincial reps insisted on a confirmation letter.
The federal/provincial reps also made it clear that day and throughout the years of the HCCC/SNEC lands table that any land transfer had to go thru the SNEC. They never once wavered on that. They never once said land could be transferred to the HCCC. So I don’t know why some people have the idea the SNEC took the Burtch land away from the HCCC.
Much as I hate to say it the HCCC/SNEC got rooked. Peterson and the federal/provincial reps knew full well they didn’t have the authority to say land could be transferred outside the Indian Act. Sure Peterson carried on the façade by writing a letter. What the HCCC /SNEC should have done is insisted on a letter from the Minister of Indian Affairs confirming Peterson’s promise.
As for today the HCCC has registered the Burtch land under their own land registry but that didn’t change title to the land. The land was still titled to Ontario. What the HCCC should have done is meet with the SNEC to strategize how the two councils could work together to get the federal/provincial governments to honour Peterson’s promise. But that didn’t happen.
Of concern to me is the HCCC’s past land management. We remember Jeff Henhawk grabbing land on Highway 6. The HCCC didn’t support the SNEC’s attempt to evict Henhawk. Their position was “We can’t tell people what to do”. So is this how they would manage the Burtch land? Could we possibly see land grabs and cigarette huts dotting the landscape?
Then there is the HCCC’s land registry itself. This land registry is more paternalistic than INAC/SNEC’s land registry. Under the HCCC’s land registry we can’t own the land; we can only borrow the land. And if we’re bad people and do something the HCCC doesn’t like they can take the land back. The HCCC’s land registry doesn’t recognize the Certificate of Possession. Stands to reason if we can’t own the land then we can’t sell the land to each other. So this means the HCCC is in total control of the land. The HCCC will decide who gets land, how much land and what we can do with the land. Is this the kind of land management we want?
Of equal concern is that the HCCC’s land registry conflicts with all of the SNEC’s housing loan programs. In order to qualify for any housing loan either thru the SNEC or the bank a person has to own one acre of land. This is so if anyone defaults on their loans the SNEC can foreclose.
So there is a lot of ifs and ands and buts to consider. I’m just happy we got the land back. The Burtch land is the most significant piece of land we’ve had returned, I would have thought our community would be celebrating. Instead all we have is division, protests and infighting.
By Councillor Helen Miller
2251 Chiefswood Road