Friday, 1 November 2013

Disabling the Negotiation Process - The Theft and Hoarding of Key Documents

It goes without saying that bargaining must be done in good faith, or the whole process is pointless.  Fairness dictates that in exploring relevant data, all records that could be useful must be shared with all parties.  If this is not the case, one side will be handicapped to the point where the negotiations may falter, or one side may capitulate because it is assumed that the records were lost or misplaced.  Without a doubt, with a collection as vast as the RG10 (Indian Affairs) collection at the National Archives in Ottawa, some important records that may show up in a catalogue, simply cannot be found.  This is true at every level of government, and every record collection which spans 200 or more years.  For example an index of War of 1812 claims show that John Doe made a claim numbered 342.  For whatever reason there is a gap in the set of records such that claim 342 is not where it should be, and was probably lost, perhaps when the records were transferred from Great Britain to Canada - who knows.

While the above is just part of the frustration of doing comprehensive research, there are instances where records are missing and the reason is far more nefarious.  They are missing because they were removed illegally.  One reason may be that the a signature on a document is valuable and someone gives in to greed.  Another reason could be that by removing a set of records in a matter being litigated, one side gains an advantage over the other.  If the latter is shown to be true then the group that removed the records is standing in the way of a fair and just solution to the problem.

I have heard rumours of a number of instances of records relating to land claims that have vanished, and there is no clear evidence as to who the culprit is - just suspicions.  This is, however, hearsay.  What counts is personal knowledge, preferably gained through observation and "being there".  I have direct knowledge of two instances where the record removal may have a significant impact on the land claims negotiation process.  Unfortunately there was no camera or security device to offer the kind of "hard evidence" that is thoroughly persuasive.  What I am left with is my memory of events - and over the years some distortions could have crept in.  However, I maintain that the essentials are factual, and can be relied upon as essentially reliable and valid.

The first matter happened about 1985.  Back in the day I was in contact with people who lived on Six Nations, and others who resided in rural Brant and Haldimand Counties, all interested in local history and genealogy.  One day a respected local historian known to all heritage minded people, Mrs. H.H., came to visit at my home.  She revealed that she had a terminal disease and had only a few months to live.  Then she stated that she had made, "the biggest mistake of my life".  Apparently when she learned that some key records that would be of interest to local genealogists were about to be removed from the Indian Office in the Federal Building in Brantford, she made a case that the records should remain locally so that they could be consulted by residents not able to make the journey to the Archives in Ottawa. 

The Indian Office was mandated to send all of the early records, those not in active use, to Ottawa.  The Federal Government is or was the custodian of said documents, and had an active microfilming programme to preserve the records for posterity.  In this case the local agency relented while the matter was explored further.  However, apparently in the meanwhile someone at the Band Council got wind of the business and an order went out to seize the records and bring them to the Reserve.  That is all that Mrs. H.H. knew about the matter - but she was overcome with guilt as she felt that the records would never again see the light of day, at least would not be available to local researchers.  Sad, very sad.  She passed away a few months later, I am sure with the matter still troubling her.

There was a time when I was a familiar fixture at the Woodland Cultural - Educational Centre in Brantford.  The library and hanging files, which were all open to me, contained a wealth of information about my family.  By chance one day I looked at a table in the library - research room and saw piled up some bound documents which appeared to be in the process of microfilming.  The name of the Indian Office, Department of Indian Affairs, Brantford was on the binding.  I did not say anything, sensing that it was none of my business - but the matter disturbed me - especially in light of what my friend had told me.  At a later date I petitioned the Band Council for permission to view these records for genealogical research purposes.  I was turned down on both occasions.  However, I was informed that if I made a request to the Research Office, they may be able to assist for a fee.  Indeed this was the case.  I asked for records from the 1870s, records that were likely at one time housed in the Indian Office, to be searched for certain names that were of interest.  When I received the bill, I was astounded.  It was a one page report with two bits of information.  Never before had I paid even a small fraction of this bill, even for much more complex requests which included photocopies and photographs and even colour negatives.

While I cannot provide much more than the above - there are those at Six Nations who will also know the truth of the matter.

A small test might be in order.  I know that Mrs. H.H. had explored every page of the Seneca Township Land Inspection Returns of 1845.  She had made copious notes and was able to give me the exact wording from the original record.  When I went to Ottawa to find the Seneca records they were nowhere to be found.  However the comparable Oneida Township records were at the Archives, and available on microfilm and original hard copy.  So where did the Seneca records go after being viewed by Mrs. H.H.?  I can guess.  The evidence is pretty persuasive.  It would be a very positive thing should this matter of the "missing" (I would rather not use the word "stolen"- although I was told that this is precisely what happened, and my later experiences support what was said to me).

The second theft concerns boxes of Six Nations genealogical material, plus old Council records, and virtually every Six Nations deed from 1680 to 1845 that had the signature of one of more Chiefs on it.  I actually helped load these records (25 years of research by a Community member) in the vehicle and trundle them into to the Haldimand County Museum and Archives where they were being donated.  That was in or about 2002.  A few years back I became curious as to how these records were housed, and how available they were to researchers.  The Curator brought out a single archival box in which there was a few photocopied articles - but none of the original research material was on the premises.  Others stepped in and made their own enquiries - same response.  They were gone, whereabouts unknown.

Quite by chance, last month I ran into the former Curator of the Museum (to whom the donation was made).  She recalled the many boxes of research documents and was shocked to learn of their disappearance.  She said that she had been working with "some women from Ohsweken" to sort and catalogue everything, and that when she left, about 2005 or 2006, everything was intact.

So, what happened between 2006 and 2009?  It appears that records clearly valuable to sundry land claims, and for Six Nations genealogists hoping to extend their family tree, had sprouted legs and walked away.  I suspect that they were stolen - by person or persons unknown. 

In my opinion, the first case is much more clear cut than the latter - but both matters should be of concern to those who respect the rule of law, truth and justice.  Something does not smell right, and there are those who know what is what.  I want to alert those doing the land claims negotiating that they may not be playing with a full deck - meaning that some key cards are missing - deliberately being held back by some to perhaps give an edge to their side in a complex situation that is highly contentious and the stakes high.  Why negotiate with those who do not play fair.  I surely wouldn't, knowing I was beat before I started.

If perchance I have made any mistakes they were unintentional.  Should it be shown that what I have reported has another interpretation, I will make a public apology and include all of the relevant facts to set the record straight.

DeYo.

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