Historian teaches the evolution of Brantford on Haldimand Tract lands

How did the City of Brantford and surrounding communities grow and prosper on land set aside for Haudenosaunee people more than 200 years ago?

Noted Tuscarora historian Rick Hill, of Six Nations of the Grand River, gave a rudimentary explanation of the convoluted history of settlement, squatting and sometimes, forced expulsion, along the Haldimand Tract lands during a webinar session as part of Laurier Brantford’s Social Justice and Solidarity Week sessions Oct. 25 to Oct. 29.

Haudenosaunee people were granted a tract of land comprising about 950,000 acres along the Grand River after being displaced from their homelands in upper New York State after the American Revolutionary War in 1784.

It was granted as compensation for lost lands, said Hill.

A few hundred Haudenosaunee people inhabited the area around what is today modern-day Brantford in the early 1800s. It was so named after Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant, and was called Brant’s Ford, or Brant’s Crossing before being incorporated.

Around 1830, the population around Brantford began to grow significantly, said Hill. In 1830, Hill says chiefs gave 800 acres of land along the Grand River to the Crown.

“Brantford started, really, when the chiefs said, ‘okay you can have this 800 acres.’”

By 1847, it was incorporated as a town.

Hill said there’s been controversy over the exact surveying of the Haldimand Tract since it was first granted by then-governor Sir Frederick Haldimand. It was difficult to say what constituted exactly six miles along either side of the Grand River from its mouth to its source.

At the time, Chief Joseph Brant, who had led the Mohawks in war against the Americans as allies with the British Crown, had a vision to ensure the people had an income from the Haldimand lands, said Hill.

“In order for the people to sustain themselves on the Haldimand Tract, they needed to have an annual income. He was going to guarantee our income by leasing blocks of land to non natives. Brant also believed that non-native style agriculture was the future for haudenosaunee people.”

In 1797, a decade after the Haldimand agreement was made, Hill said Brant granted about 302,000 acres of land away in leases from the original 950,000 acres in the Haldimand Tract.

Today, the official Six Nations reserve comprises only about 40,000 acres, or about five per cent, of the original tract.

At points throughout history, the Crown tried to sell land that the chiefs didn’t agree to, said Hill.

Fraudulent sales took place.

At one time, the Haudenosaunee were considered us valuable allies but that started to change after the War of 1812.

“They (colonists) began to think differently about that,” said Hill.

Eventually what arose was “the Indian question” he said, which left colonizers with four options: exterminate native people, enslave them, isolate them on reserves, or assimilate them.

“They chose the last two. It was a conscious decision, to focus on those two aspects.”

By 1911 the land around Brantford started to collapse. Government policy shifted to concentrating native people onto reserves to protect them from white settlers.

“The government assumed they had the right to protect our land from imposition (to protect from settlers) but on the other hand, the government was orchestrating the loss of our lands,” said Hill. “When the person who says they have authority over your lands turns around and duplicitously gives the land to other people, what’s your recourse? Back then, we didn’t have any recourse.”

The government issued an order to Six Nations to surrender their lands and move onto the reserve as the only way to protect them from squatters. For a number of reasons, said Hill, some chiefs agreed to that, but other chiefs didn’t.

“We’ve been fighting over this ever since.”

Some of the squatters were evicted. Some of them refused to leave.

By 1853 many squatters refused to leave and even evicted Six Nations people with axes and torches and chased them out of the villages around Cainsville and elsewhere, said Hill.

Around the same time, the so-called “Indian Department” established a trust fund for Six Nations people. The money was used to fund the department of Indian Affairs, the building of the Mohawk Institute Residential School, as well as funding the infrastructure of Canada.

Hill says the current balance is $634 million, “so when people complain, ‘the natives are a burden on the taxpayer,’ I think we can say just the opposite is true – the taxpayer is a burden on the natives because they’ve been living off this money. Imagine what $630 million could have done (for Six Nations). Our money went into investing into the infrastructure of Canada. They took our money and built up all around us.”

In the 1920s, Six Nations said enough is enough. They delegated Chief Deskaheh (Levi General) to go overseas to try to get their case heard before the new League of Nations.

“Rather than deal with all of Six Nations issues, the government decided, ‘let’s get rid of the complainer.’ In 1924, they got rid of the chiefs out of the council house and forced an elected system in community, where only a couple dozen people voted. We’ve been in conflict ever since. It’s a typical divide and conquer tactic.”

Today, Six Nations people have been standing up and refusing one more inch of land to be taken. This past spring, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council issued a moratorium on all development along the Haldimand Tract. Numerous land reclamations have sprung up in the past decade.

“Unfortunately, we have to take very drastic stances to get attention to these matters,” said Hill. “We all know this Land Back movement started not only here, but across Canada and all across the Western Hemisphere.”

“We could argue forever who owns the land, who stole the land, who should compensate us for that loss,” said Hill, “but I think we gotta wake up and realize, especially with climate change, what’s happening to the land. We have to set aside our petty monetary differences. We are advised to tread softly upon the ground, Look at the city of Brantford. Where’s the treading softly? It’s all covered in concrete, and asphalt. Sooner or later we’ve gotta say, ‘enough is enough.’ What kind of world are our children going to enter? What have we done to ensure this world is safe, healthy and sane?”

“That’s pretty heavy-duty stuff to think about.”

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