The biggest elephant in Canada is still the document that just celebrated its 229th anniversary last week, sometimes known as the Haldimand Proclamation, the Haldimand Deed or the Haldimand Treaty.
Like most historical documents, one cannot get a true picture of what the intent of that document actually was if one looks at it with modern eyes as a stand-alone document. Equally important in getting to that intent is a review of relative documents which lead up to, and come down after the document in question was agreed to.
The Supreme Court of Canada also recently upheld that one must consider the articles of a historical document as based on how it was understood by the Indian people it was made with and not by modern legal interpretations.
One cannot consider the Haldimand Proclamation without considering the Haldimand Promise, which was made before hostilities broke out between the British and the New England settlers, later to become Americans.
In that promise, Haldimand spells out very clearly his understanding of the promise made to Brant by his predesessor Guy Carlton, and whom the promise of restitution for lands lost was intended for — the Mohawks and those others of the Six Nations who agreed to fight for the British and lost land because of it and wished to relocate in British held Canada.
Upon the Eve of the American revolution in the fall of 1775, Brant accompanied Sir William Johnson to London to present their position on Indian Affairs. Captain Brant had an audience with King George III which resulted in His Majesty’s consideration to the Mohawk Indians that in compensation for the loss of their lands due to their alliance with the British to help fight back the American aggression, “…the Mohawk Nation and such others of the Six Nations Indians as wish to settle in that quarter to take possession of and settle upon the Banks of the River commonly called Ouse or the Grand River, running into Lake Erie allotting to them for that purpose six miles deep from each side of the river beginning at Lake Erie and extending to the head of the said river which them and their posterity are to enjoy forever…” The Haldimand Deed was effectively compensation for the loss of the lands suffered by the Mohawks and other allied Indian nations that fought alongside Captain Joseph Brant during the Indian/American wars.
This is what Joseph Brant also understood the agreement to be. Therefore any modernist interpretation by either Onkwehon:we or settler, that does not take this into account is flawed.
On April 26, 1784, Frederick Haldimand wrote:
“The mode of acquiring lands by what is called Deeds of Gift is to be entirely discontinued, for, by the King’s instructions, no Private Person, Society, Corporation or colony is capable of acquiring any property in lands belonging to the Indians, either by purchase, or grant or conveyance from the Indians, excepting only where the lands lie within the limits of any colony the soil of which has been vested in Proprietaries or Corporations by grants from the Crown; in which cases such Proprietaries or Corporations only shall be capable of acquiring such property by purchase or grants from the Indians.”
Originally, Government officials interpreted this grant of land as something the Indians could never lease or sell to anyone but the British Crown, as also spelled out in the Royal Proclamation of 1763.
But Joseph Brant’s understanding of the proclamation that Haldimand had made to the Mohawks and others of the Six Nations Indians who lost their lands in the American Revolution, was that it was to be freehold land tenure equal to that enjoyed by the British Empire Loyalist settlers. As freeholders, the Indians could lease or sell land to the highest bidder, as any Empire Loyalist could. In 1793, John Graves Simcoe stated that the Indians could not lease their land since British subjects could only lease land from British subjects.
This creates an uncomfortable stance for the government in later years. If, as Simcoe stated, Indians could not lease or sell land because only a British Subject could buy or sell land to another British Subject, that clearly states that the British Crown did not consider Joseph Brant or his people British subjects, but rather allies, as Brant also saw himself.
Brant considered the right to lease or sell land as a test for Indian sovereignty as well as British integrity.
The crown also said that the grant was for all members of the Six Nations, but Brant said the land should only be for those members of the Six Nations who were living on the land outlined by the Haldimand Tract at that time.
One must recall that there were Mohawks and others of the Six Nations who fought with the Americans in that war. Surely Brant or Haldimand would not have granted British protected land to American patriots, especially that close to the war.
This is the most important document in the history of Canada and to the Haudenosaunee and remains a source of great contention at present concerning the wording of the document and the later interpretations by involved parties. The Haldimand Deed also sets the Mohawks and those that fall under their umbrella as having the distinct status as Allies of the British Crown and NOT subjects.
Logically, this document should be the first issue settled since all other Six Nations land treaties are based on it.
Why the government recoils at the very sound of the words, the Haldimand Proclamation, is an indicator that this is still the one document they fear the most.
Happy Anniversary Six Nations. You still hold the hammer.