A recent presentation cast some light on the history and context of the Six Nations land claim controversy in Caledonia.
By Connie Kidd
Published February 26, 2007
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy (aka Iroquois) spans the Canada-US border and includes Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, St. Regis/Oka, Awkwesasne, Kanewake, Kahnesetake, Tyendinaga/Desoronto, Wahta and possibly other reserves and communities. It includes the Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga, Tuscarora and Onondaga peoples.
After the American War of Independence, during which Mohawk warriors fought as allies of the British, the Haudenosaunee were persecuted in their New York territories and so moved north to ancestral territories along the Grand River, which were reserved for them in the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784. The land was gradually taken out of their hands through a variety of sales and surrenders currently in dispute.
On February 28, 2006, members of the Six Nations claimed a construction site in Caledonia, asserting that it is unceded Confederacy land and a site of historical and sacred importance to them. The Ontario Provincial Police tried unsuccessfully to remove them on April 20, 2006. Negotiations with provincial and federal negotiators began May 9 2006, and are currently in progress.
These members of the Six Nations assert ownership over the entire Haldimand Tract. They also assert that their aboriginal sovereignty was never ceded.What's happening in Caledonia? was the title of a presentation by three Haudenosaunee Confederacy negotiators from Six Nations, sponsored by Amnesty International and the Community of Friends of Six Nations and organized by Dr. George Sorger, a McMaster professor and member of both groups.
Chief Allan McNaughton spoke of the history of Six Nations and their alliances with the European settlers in North America for respect, peace and friendship. The Two Row Wampum Treaty with the Dutch clarified the relationship as "like brothers ... and neither will try to steer the other's boat."
This treaty was carried forward and renewed as the Silver Covenant Chain and is now recognized by the Constitution of Canada. However, this treaty and others were not honoured by Canada. As more and more white settlers encroached on native territory, lands were forcibly surrendered and trust fund money for those lands was embezzled and used to build Canadian institutions and infrastructure.
Sub-Chief Leroy Hill spoke of the 385,000 hectare Haldimand Tract and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy plan for leasing lands to provide income for the "perpetual care and maintenance" of their people via a trust fund. The Confederacy made their plans to afford self-sufficiency for their people. The Canadian settlers and governments failed to honour and undermined these plans:
Clan Mother representative Hazel Hill talked about the Clan Mothers who are the title holders. The Clan Mothers are responsible for caring for the children and the land that will sustain them, while the men look after the safety of the women and children. She spoke of how the reclamation of the land February 28, 2006 reflects these responsibilities to care for the land for future generations.
The reclamation was supported by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council which is still the government accepted by the people. In their view, the Band Council system is Canada's government imposed on them in 1924 to facilitate the theft of land and fraudulent misuse of their trust money.
In later years, Canada passed laws forbidding aboriginal groups from using the courts to reclaim land. It was not until 1979 that the government installed the current land claim system. However, many aboriginal and other Canadians feel that the system is so slow and cumbersome that it is not a good faith initiative.
Dr. George Sorger asked participants to sign a petition to the federal government to place a moratorium on lands in dispute. Our governments continue to approve development, logging, mining and other destructive activities on land in dispute, leading to confrontations like Caledonia and Desoronto.
Speakers left ample time for questions and answers from the multicultural crowd of students, staff and faculty. Most questions indicated support for the reclaimers and concerns about the behaviour of our governments. The final question was, "Do you believe our federal government is negotiating in good faith?"
Chief Allan McNaughton responded carefully by saying that the government negotiators have delivered a "legal position" that the Plank Road land was surrendered, but they have not produced documentation to support that, nor have they adequately evaluated the oral history prepared by Six Nations and the accompanying documentation. Consequently, negotiations on that land are at stalemate.
Haudenosaunee negotiators, thus, have begun reviewing the framework for the negotiations and the commitments of both parties to determine whether this agreed-upon negotiation protocol is being followed, or whether there are areas of concern.
Chief McNaughton identified one concern: The negotiations are to occur under the Two Row Wampum Treaty, which specifies that "neither will try to steer the other's boat."
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