Behind the scenes of the Mohawk land deal

There has been much talk, fear mongering, unrealistic anticipation and misunderstanding about an agreement proposed between King and Benton Development Corp under the name of Guswenenta Holdings Ltd., and the Mohawks (Kannyengehhakah) of the Grand River — otherwise known as the Mohawk Workers.

The proposal being worked on at this time concerns land located within what is known to the Six Nations as the Eagles’ Nest, and to Brantford as Eagle Place, specifically located at the intersection of Erie Avenue and Birkett Lane and surrounding lands.

Two Row Times has asked Brantford developer Steve Charest, of Guswenenta Holdings Ltd., Bill Squire representing the Mohawk Workers, and the HDI representing the Confederacy for an explanation of the proposal and what it will mean to the people of Six Nations should it become a reality. The Two Row Times contacted Aaron Detlor for the HDI perspective on this issue. Detlor declined to comment.

“The main thing is to return land to Six Nations under the Haldimand Deed and not through Ontario Realty,” says Squire. “As far as I see it, at the end of the day, we end up with the underlying title and that is something neither the HDI nor the Elected Council has been able to do.”

According to Squire, it is not because the Mohawks are thinking of themselves more highly than they should, but rather because the Mohawks are the only ones who can legally do it.

It is the Mohawk Worker’s perception that the Mohawks remain the only Nation of the original Five Nations who did not sign off on their status as an independent, sovereign Nation.

Squire tells a story his grandfather told him, one that was verified by contemporary documentation: “In 1886, there was a big meeting of the Six Nations in Sarnia. It was a really important meeting and so the Mohawks were invited to be a part of it. But when they found out that the meeting was to discuss the “benefits” of the Indian Act, the Mohawk delegation turned around and went back home, and id not participate.”

According to Squire and the documented evidence, certain articles of the Indian Act were accepted by the other Nations of the Five Nations without a single Mohawk signing it.

“They didn’t sign off on the whole thing, but they did agree to put themselves under the Indian Act by accepting even one of those articles,” says Squire. “The government knows that and that’s why they don’t care what kind of concessions they made at that time. As far as Canada is concerned, if you accept some, you have accepted all of the Indian Act. We Mohawks never did that.”

He points to further evidence that also underscores what the government believes about Six Nations and the Indian Act.

“In 1910-1911, the Canadian government consolidated regulations over the Six Nations of the Grand River – especially over the Six Nations of the Grand River,” he says with supporting documentation in hand. “Some say the Indian Act was imposed on us in 1924, but in fact, it was here long before that, according to these documents.”

If Squire is right, only the Mohawks remain outside the Indian Act, and as such, are the only ones who can legally return land under the Haldimand Deed which was granted to them, “and such others of the Six Nations” etc.

“That is why we are offering all of Six Nations, not only the Mohawks, but also all of Six Nations, a way out,” he says. “We are the only ones who can do it because we did not sign away our sovereignty by accepting the Indian Act. Ever wonder why the government will not acknowledge our sovereignty as Six Nations as a whole? It’s because they don’t have to. They all signed off on that except us Mohawks.”

Squire is very curious why, with more than 50% of Six Nations of the Grand River being Mohawk, the Mohawks are denied the right to participate in land issues, which deal with the very land brought to the rest of Six Nations through the Mohawk Nation.

Charest says he has tried to get a similar agreement to return land to Six Nations, but has run into what he believes to be unfounded political opposition.

He says he has had discussions with members of the Elected Band Council about his plan.

“Any dialogue or conversation I have had with them (Elected Councillors) has been nothing but forthright and positive,” he says.

Charest says he had entered into discussions with certain Confederacy Chiefs about his proposal, although not specific to the Birkett/Erie lands, and that some Confederacy Chiefs were interested in hearing more.

But according to Charest, when the Haudenosaunee Development Institute got involved, they responded to this initial proposal with questions over a shared revenues model with Guswenenta Holdings. He says that his company’s counter offer, which addresses their concerns, never made it back to the Chiefs’ Council before the HDI arbitrarily quashed the deal in what Charest believes were mid-negotiations.

“We came up with a solution,” says Charest. “But unfortunately it never got past the HDI. That was where we proposed to the government a share of 25% of all new assessment for industrial development. That didn’t make it to the Longhouse and wasn’t put before the Chiefs, as far as I know.”

Charest says he set up an informal meeting with the Chiefs which Onondaga Chiefs Pete Skye and Toby Williams, along with Cayuga Chief Blake Bomberry, Mohawk Chief Allen MacNaughton, and Brian Doolittle all attended. Charest insists it was a meeting with the Chiefs, and not with the HDI.

“We talked about Erie and Birkett,” he says. “Those lands have been named under the injunction, and still are currently. That was in the Fall of last year and I thought they were heartfelt discussions and that we were moving forward on a concept of agreement.”

Before that, the HDI gave Charest their own agreement to look over, and according to Charest, it contained two main pillars. One was to acquire about the same land mass as he was developing on Oak Park Road at the time, or to compensate Six Nations for that landmass at a rate of $5,000 per acre. But the HDI agreement referred only to the Nanfan Treaty and did not mention the Haldimand at all.

“I found that very strange after reading the Six Nations’ Iroquois Confederacy of the Grand River’s official statement on land rights as adopted in council on November 4, 2006,” says Charest. “The very first article in that paper reads,“The Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee, Grand River Territory, wish to affirm and clarify our land rights in the tract confirmed by Governor Frederick Haldimand on Oct. 25, 1784. In making this statement, “The Council of Chiefs wants to make it clear that we hold certain land ethics and principles that must be respected in any agreements of land use or occupation. The Haudenosaunee, and its governing authority, have inherited the rights to land from time immemorial. Land is a birthright, essential to the expression of our culture.”

Charest did not sign that agreement because it didn’t talk about the Haldimand, only what he considers to be a much weaker argument in the Nanfan.

“We decided to wait and have other conversations,” he says.

At around that time, Bill Squire contacted him and said he wanted to talk.

“We carried on our conversations with the Mohawk Workers, who hold the original Haldimand Proclamation, and signed a simple agreement saying ‘let’s work together.’”

There were no real details set forth, only a pledge to continue talks about the matter of Birkett and Erie Ave. lands.

“Those Erie and Birkett lands are particularly interesting because they were patented outside the Haldimand Deed,” says Charest. “The first receiver of those patents was the Squire family. So, Joe Squires, Bill and Ted Squire’s great uncle, received the first patent to those lands.”

“What better way to start conveying land back to the Six Nations than through the family that received the first patent on it — the people who are holding the Haldimand, the folks that invited members of the other Nations to join them on the tract?

“And that is exactly what the Mohawks are doing today,” says Squire. “We are inviting the balance of the Nations to come back and see if we can do something about our land. Let’s gather everyone back together and create a little clarity on the matter.”

There are two recent issues both Charest and Squire believe are highly significant. Both 431 West Street and the Gilkinson Street addresses in Brantford were, in fact, conveyed to Six Nations in recent history — one effectively through the Mohawk Nation, and the other through the Elected Council.

He finds it interesting that the land the Elected Council received is being put up for tax sale by the city while the Gilkinson Street address, conveyed through the Mohawks, is not. He believes that says a lot and adds weight to the concept of returning land through the Mohawks.

“When I listen to what the likes of Bill Squire and Ted Squire and Pete Skye, and Elected Chief Bill Montour, have to say, they all want the same thing,” says Charest. “They want their land back under their own terms.”

He and the Mohawks Workers would like to get this issue before the people and let the people decide what to do next.

“If the people of Six Nations decide that they don’t want development land back, that they don’t want to participate with the city and development community, they don’t want spin-off jobs, trades, and so forth, that is their decision,” says Charest. “But without that opportunity, there is no decision.”

For his part, Bill Squire is firm on this or any other land conveyance plan.

“Unless this land returns under the Haldimand, and not Ontario Realty, any deal with Mr. Charest or anyone else is a non-starter,” says Squire.

Charest agrees that this is the path forward and that he will help to make it happen, setting a precedent for other land conveyances as well.

By Jim Windle

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1 Comment

  1. It seems to me, if Bill Squires is right on the history as laid out above, the people of Six Nations should be getting behind him. Of all the fractured elements of our disunity, Squires and his people seem to be the only ones who are putting words into action and that’s exactly what is needed. Someone to lead. Unless Mr. Squires is some kind of accomplished spinmaster, and I’m not for a moment suggesting he is, then what he has to say seems to make the most common sense of all I have heard and read. One thing is certain, he is NOT sitting on his hands waiting for someone else to take action. He most certainly is NOT just a “status card Indian.”

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