Six Nation Land Rights as I have come to understand

The content and ideas contained in this paper are my own and comes from my understanding gained by research and talking to the old people who were knowledgeable of the history and development of Six Nations – Bill Montour, Smoothtown.

The information used to write this paper was taken from the Internet, Wikipedia and Six Nations Council research that commenced in 1976 by the lands and Resources Department. It is my hope that this paper will help the younger community members to gain a clearer starting point to begin discussions toward an amicable solution to the current land use and title argument currently disrupting the peace in our community.

The Haldimand Proclamation was a decree that granted land to the Six Nations who had served on the British side during the American Revolution. The decree was issued by the Governor of the Province of Quebec, Frederick Haldimand, on October 25, 1784, on behalf of King George the Third. It is interesting to note that that the Haldimand Proclamation was issued just three days after the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784) was signed between others of the Six Nations and the American government.

The Haldimand Proclamation came about as a result of Joseph Brant and Guy Johnson, the former Superintendent of Indian Affairs, who had travelled to London, England in November 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution, to obtain a promise from the Crown that if the Mohawk Nation fought on the British side, they would be compensated with a land grant should the war effort fail and that they could lose the Mohawk River Valley lands, as the spoils of war if the American Patriots defeated the British.

During and after the American Revolution, American Patriots confiscated land and property from those who were Loyalists during the war. The British government compensated both Indian and non-Indian Loyalists with cash payments for their losses.

By early 1783, Brant had selected the valley of the Grand River as a place of settlement; in 1784 Frederick Haldimand agreed. The land was acquired from the Mississaugas in May 1784, with Lieutenant-Colonel John Butler acting as an agent of purchase on behalf of the government.

Later, the Crown adopted the position that it had failed to obtain title to the entire valley at the time of its purchase from the Mississaugas.

These two historical statements raise an important question of why the British Crown had to buy the land from the Mississaugas, in the first place, when the Five Nations (at that time) and the British agreed to the Nanfan Treaty in 1701. The Grand River lands being a part of the lands that was covered by the 400 by 800 square mile area should have already been protected by the Treaty, as was the intent of the Nanfan agreement.

Did the British Crown sell or give these lands to the Mississaugas without the Five Nations’ knowledge?

Now we need to see and understand the Haldimand Proclamation. The text of the proclamation reads:

“Frederick Haldimand, Captain General and Governor General in Chief of the Province of Quebec and Territories depending thereon, General and Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Forces in said Province and the Frontiers thereof —

Whereas His Majesty having been pleased to direct that in consideration of the early attachment to his cause manifested by the Mohawk Indians, and of the loss of their settlement which they thereby sustained — that a convenient tract of land under his protection should be chosen as a safe and comfortable retreat for them and others of the Six Nations, who have either lost their settlements within the Territory of the American States, or wish to retire from them to the British — I have at the earnest desire of many of these His Majesty’s faithful Allies purchased a tract of land from the Indians situated between the Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron and I do hereby in His Majesty’s name authorize and permit the said Mohawk Nation and such others of the Six Nation Indians as wish to settle in that quarter to take possession of and settle upon the Banks of the River commonly called Ours [Ouse] or 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 in that proportion to the head of the said river, which them and their posterity are to enjoy forever.”[1]

Given under my hand and seal at arms, at the Castle of St Lewis at Quebec, this twenty-fifth day of October one thousand seven hundred and eighty-four and in the twenty-fifth year of the reign of Our Sovereign Lord George The Third by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith and so forth.

Fredk Haldimand

By His Excellency’s Command
R Mathews

The important message that I get from the wording of the Haldimand Proclamation is that King George the Third, in His Majesty’s name, authorized and permitted the said Mohawk Nation and such others of the Six Nations to take possession and settle on the banks of the Grand River. Further, I understand, that the land was provided to the people who were of the Mohawk Nation as well as to other people who were a part of the Six Nations, and not to the Confederacy Council of Chiefs. And following that line of thinking, the Elected Council did not exist at that time.
In moving forward to the situation we find ourselves in today, everyone must know that in 1844 the lands forming the Burtch Tract were designated as being in the Township of Tuscarora (Six Nations is in Tuscarora Township) and in 1846 the boundary was changed making the Burtch Tract to form a part of the Township of Brant.
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.”

Government officials originally interpreted this grant as prohibiting the Indians from leasing or selling the land to anyone but the government. Joseph Brant countered that Haldimand had promised the Indians freehold land tenure equal to that enjoyed by the colony’s Loyalist settlers. As freeholders, the Indians could lease or sell land to the highest bidder. In 1793, Lieutenant Governor Simcoe stated that the Indians could not lease their land since British subjects could only lease land from British subjects.

As the Six Nations were considered allies of the Crown, it would seem that Joseph Brant considered the right to lease or sell land as a litmus test for Six Nations sovereignty.

Considering the situation today with the Burtch Tract land and following Frederick Haldimand’s April 26, 1784 statement above, the lands should never have been a provincial correctional, after the land was used as flight training centre for the Canadian air force during the Second World War. The Crown never acquired these lands by purchase or grant from the Six Nations. This is the pith and substance of the Burtch Tract land claim which was filed with Canada on April 20, 1989.

I maintain, given the above history, that David Peterson’s promise in 2007 to return the Burtch land, as a part of the Burtch Tract, back to Six Nations as Haldimand Proclamation lands would have corrected a long standing mistake by the Crown to transfer lands to Ontario for a correctional center. This transfer to Ontario violated the discontinued Deed of Gifts as the property was not acquired by purchase or grant from Six Nations. This position is further supported by a Report the of a Committee of the Executive Council of Canada on August 3, 1843, approved by the Governor General on October 4, 1843, the Committee recommended that certain lands, the Burtch Tract being one, be reserved for Six Nations.

In summary, this political argument is not about one Six Nation member farming the land but the 2 Councils who really have no authority to be dealing with lands that are owned by the people of Six Nations in the first place.

I believe the documented history supports this position and we need to consider creating a Six Nations Land Council that can work with both Councils to protect all the lands that are not in reserve status such as Kanastotho, and other farms that have been purchased over the years that have not been transferred to reserve land status. Political land ownership will only continue to be irritants now and into the future.

The Court Injunction of the Elected Council is just plain wrong and must be done away with immediately as it demeans the sovereign rights of Six Nation peoples.

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