Johnson Settlement is still Six Nations land


BRANTFORD – How did the Johnson Settlement Tract get into the hands of Brantford?

That is a question that was not talked about much when Brant and Brantford were wrestling over boundary adjustments that include a large portion of the Johnson Settlement lands.

Of all the land claims involving Brant and Brantford, the Johnson Settlement is one of the most documented.

Historical records clearly show Six Nations Chiefs had no intention of letting go of the 7,000 acre Johnson Settlement, a position still held by both the Six Nations Elected Band Council and the traditional Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council.

The following is a chronology of how this and similarly other parcels of land in and around Brantford were illegally acquired.

This and 28 other claims were prepared and submitted for settlement in 1989 and accepted as a legitimate land claim. The government’s obvious dragging of heals pushed the Elected Band Council to formally launch litigation against Canada in 1995, seeking settlement of the list of claims researched by Six Nations lands researcher Phil Monture.

The federal government used the lawsuit as an excuse to close all of these land claim files. They have been collecting dust while Brant and Brantford have been collecting taxes and other income from Six Nations land without any form of compensation to Six Nations.

The idea of leasing Haldimand Proclamation land instead of selling it came from the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada in October of 1829 to address the controversy of the late Joseph Brant selling off large tracts of land within the Haldimand Grant lands for the benefit of the Six Nations.

Around the same time, Six Nations was considering surrendering land for what would become the Brantford Town Plot, but it came with a very important caveat; the surrender did not include the Johnson Tract. The surrender of the plot was given under the condition that the Governor remove settler squatters from the Haldimand Tract and relocate them there.

The Chiefs expressed specifically that the Johnson Tract be leased on short-term leases and not sold, to ensure perpetual income for the Six Nations people.

In 1830, the Town Plot was surrendered and surveyed by Lewis Burwell and John Brant, with proceeds of the sale of these lots intended to go to the Six Nations Trust Fund. But many of the squatters did not comply and remained squatting on the Haldimand Tract “Indian” lands.

Once building began, the terms of the surrender were quickly forgotten. Some lots were sold legally, some only a partial payment was made and others have no record of a transaction to account for at all. Either way, all the money did not go to the Trust fund but was used for the building of Canada’s infrastructure, without permission or even the knowledge of the sitting chiefs.

In April of 1835, the Six Nations Chiefs Council agreed to sell off the Town Plot, but not the Johnson Settlement. In 1839, through an Act of Parliament and public notices squatters were ordered off Six Nations land. Several other orders were released, but the squatters remained.

Documents from 1840 show there was no real intent to remove the settlers, and in fact some government employees were advising squatters to stay and they would get first dibs on the land once it came up for sale.

In 1840, Canada came up with the suggestion to promise that the people of Six Nations would be looked after and cared for forever should they surrender all the Haldimand Tract land except for that which they wished to keep for themselves and future generations. The Chiefs refused.

A document dated January 18, 1841, reflects Six Nations desire to keep the Johnson Tract separate from the Town Plot lands.

In 1841, Samuel Jarvis orchestrated a so-called surrender of all Haldimand Tract lands except that which they wanted to retain for themselves. The people of Six Nations rejected it immediately because it contained the signatures of only six chiefs, rather than the 50 required by Haudenosaunee law. One of those chiefs later revealed that he was promised land if he signed it. He later recanted.

That ignited tensions between Six Nations, settlers and the government itself, which recognized the angry petitions from Six Nations and quashed the 1841 “surrender” ordering a redraft, which was presented in 1844. This time the document contained the signatures or marks of 48 names, said to be chiefs. This document has been a bone of contention ever since, but even if it were upheld to be a true surrender; it too excludes the Johnson Tract.

June 24, 1843, the Confederacy finally agreed to let out the Johnson Tract lands, but on short term leases only. In July of 1843, Samuel Jarvis confirms in a letter to Burwell that Six Nations will not surrender the Johnson tract for sale, but would lease under certain conditions.

An Order in Council dated Oct. 4, 1843 confirms the short term leasing of lots on the Johnson tract and further assures Six Nations that the Government has “no wish to procure the surrender of any portion of the lands against the lands” in question.

Jarvis himself was removed from his office shortly after the so-called 1844 surrender after three investigations into fraud, embezzlement and breach of duty. But his fraudulent surrender remains the only document Canada has to support its case. That, and a document dated July 30, 1851, from David Thorburn who obviously helped bully the sale through, despite having no map, no formal surrender and without the free will of the Six Nations people to do so.

And that is how the Johnson Tract got into the hands of Brantford/Brant.

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