Thursday, 12 December 2013

Second Opinion: Six Nations Have No Valid Land Claims Beyond Present Reserve Boundaries

Actually the heading should probably have read something like, "The First Acknowledgement That the Current Land Claims are All Invalid".  What I am referring to is a book I read back in the 1970s, but its significance did not register until a second reading, today.

Previously I have asserted that my searches through the vast collections relating to Indian Affairs had turned up nothing that would in any way support the list of land claims presently set before the Federal Government by the Six Nations Land and Resources Department.  While that is interesting, it is heresay.  My foray into these records was for an entirely different reason.  Thus it was going to require a return to the National Archives to make copies of those documents which are key to understanding why the present day Reserve boundaries were the sum total that the Chiefs requested in the 1840s, all other lands (except for a little over 200 acres in Brantford) were to be surrendered to the Crown and sold in order to provide annuities for Six Nations people.  Actually I know someone who had made copies of all these records, but when they had emigrated elsewhere they donated their records to a local museum. With their permission in writing, in recent years I went to the museum to make copies of the copies but, alas, all the the documents had "gone missing".  My subsequent enquiries determined that the documents were last seen in the hands of "a couple of women from Ohsweken" who were assisting the curator to organise the voluminous records.  Work and other commitments would ensure that obtaining the needed records from Ottawa was simply not going to happen.  Fortune smiled on me though, and at about the time when I was thwarted in my efforts to obtain local access to key records, a comprehensive report had been commissioned by the City of Brantford, using these same documentary sources housed at the National Archives in Ottawa, and had been completed and submitted to the City.

In a couple of previous blog postings I have provided a link to the "Holmes Report" which summarises each and every source that relates to the Surrender of 1841 and the subsequent surrenders to 1850.  The bottom line is that while it is true that early in the process the Chiefs requested that lands such as the Plank Road lands be included in a reservation, they changed their minds and requested that the land be sold, and Crown deeds for the lands be issued with the proviso that the monies from these transactions (minus, for example, the costs of compensating squatters for their improvements) be added to the annuity fund for the advantage of the Six Nations.  This is one of those QED (overwhelming proof) studies where the records are so clear and unambiguous that we can now dispense with any claims by Six Nations 160 plus years later saying that these lands were not included in the surrender - they in fact were included.  See here to access the "Holmes Report".

Oddly, around the year 1980 I read a very clear precis of the matter but for some reason its significance did not register. It pays to keep and re-read key sources from time to time.  This published study predates the "Holmes Report", and acts as an independent check on the latter.

Sally Weaver spent years studying ethnographic material relating to the Six Nations, with a focus on the records and sources generated during the 1840s which resulted in the consolidation of Six Nations lands to a more "compact" Reserve.  Here follows what Dr. Weaver discovered in her explorations of the matter (including all of the materials referred to in the "Holmes Report"), as set out in an article published in 1978.  See Sally M. Weaver, Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario in William C. Sturtevant (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, Northeast, Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institution, 1978, pp. 525 to 536.

First Dr. Weaver discusses the lands above the Nichol Block, the uppermost parcel of land that relates to the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784, and the Simcoe Patent of 1793.  While the former does indeed mention lands from the mouth to the headwaters of the Grand River, Governor Frederick Haldimand was rather rushed and executed this proclamation on his own authority without the approval of the Privy Council in London (the Haldimand Proclamation did not even include the Great Seal, a device used to signal that the parchment had the backing of the Crown.  Hence the rather vague description, prior to any survey having been conducted, and prior to consideration of what was already purchased of the Mississaugas (the legal owners of the Grand River Tract and all of Southwestern Ontario), would cause confusion for generations to come.  In fact the "proclamation" was not a deed, let alone a deed in fee simple whereby lands could be disposed of without the permission of the Crown.  It merely gave the Mohawks and others of the Six Nations who may wish to settle here, permission to take possession of these lands and nothing more.  See my next posting for more specifics on this matter.  The upshot is that every time Six Nations makes rumblings of ownership of the land, including the land all the way to the headwaters of the Grand, Courts in England and Canada have consistently maintained that the lands noted in the Haldimand Proclamation (a temporary and general "holding" document), and given more precision by the Simcoe Patent, surveyed in 1790 to 91 and again in 1793, extend to include the Nichol Block and no further.  This is Weaver's take on the totality of the evidence relating to this matter (see p. 525, and particularly the Canada, House of Commons 1887).  This continues to be a thorn, and probably will continue to be a point of contention, irrespective of the evidence since beliefs at Six Nations have become so entrenched.

The second issue that is addressed by Dr. Weaver is the series of land surrenders between 1841 and 1848.  I can see no reason whatsoever why she would have any axe to grind or any pony in the race.  Weaver is simply reporting on the content of the documents she had occasion to examine between 1963 and 1974.  Dr. Weaver made extensive notes, but her findings are not published in a report on this specific subject, but are summarised in her study of the history of the Six Nations of the Grand River.  This article includes a detailed listing of her sources that provided the backing for what she reports in her chapter in the Smithsonian book.

1841:  According to Weaver, before 1841 it was apparent that the Six Nations were becoming dispersed along the Valley, with only two village settlements where schools and other amenities could be situated.  As a consequence, Six Nations members would sell or otherwise dispose of their lands to incoming Whites, who as far as the Indian Department administration officials were concerned, were squatters with no legal title to their property [the Department rules required all sales to be approved by the Crown in order to protect Six Nations interests].  The problem was compounded since the sheer numbers of squatters simply overwhelmed the resources and ability to effectively remove (permanently) a couple of thousand people illegally settled on lands extending over a vast tract of land.  Anyone who believes that perhaps the Crown should have brought in prison scows to house these individuals for an indefinite period is being unrealistic - let alone the legal implications of the matter.  So in the opinion of the present author, it is easy to criticise those whose responsibility it was to look after the interests of the Six Nations, but a more reasoned exploration (as I have done with the records at the National Archives and the Archives of Ontario) will show that these officials were often put in a vise, and expected to work miracles.  The compromises that emerged can only be seen as "colonialism" by those primed to see this concept everywhere - a very simplistic and knee jerk reaction unsupported by the documentary sources.

So there is a huge and growing problem beginning prior to 1830 which sounds to the present author to be very similar to what one sees at Oka or in parts of Oklahoma where individual Indians have sold off land and what remains is a patchwork quilt with diminshed continuity and a reduced opportunity for a community to form around such a chaotic physical environment.  The solution that was arrived at by the government was to "consolidate", meaning that they suggested to the Chiefs that they may wish to authorise a surrender to the Crown of all lands not needed, and the retaining of a suitably large block upon which all Six Nations people could settle.  There were at the time about 220,000 acres unceded, but it was calculated that a Reserve (land reserved for the sole use of the Six Nations) of 20,000 acres should meet their collective needs.  The government emphasised that those Six Nations in possession of lands anywhere in the Tract who wished to retain their property could do so, and if desired, could sell their property at any later date and move to the consolidated Reserve.  The Chiefs saw the wisdom in the suggestion as it would also inject much needed monies into their annuity fund. 

In the opinion of the government officials, if there was a smaller area involved it would be feasible to remove the squatters, compensate them for any improvements, and then allot the land to a member of the Six Nations.  The government officials would then be in a better positon to ensure that new squatters did not enter what would be in effect a restricted area.  Hence ingress of White people would be dealt with immediately allowing the Six Nations to have an intact and homogeneous community where they could continue with their own way of life.  Also with a more compact settlement, it would be more cost effective to construct schools and churches and other necessary services.

1841 to 1847:  During negotiations between government officials and the Chiefs of the Six Nations the latter asked that the size of the Reserve be increased by an additional 35,000 acres, the belief being that 20,000 acres was simply too small.  This proposal was acceptable to all, however, subsequent surrenders reduced this main block of 55,000 acres to 44,900 acres.  Additional dispersed pockets of land totalling 278.09 acres retained from the original tract, remain to the band within the southeast limits of the City of Brantford (p. 527).

1847:  Weaver does not produce a timeline where all of the subsequent council meetings took place and surrenders signed by the chiefs of the Six Nations and allied tribes.  She next picks up the thread in 1847 when the government asked the chiefs to assign Reserve land to the head of each household.

The research of Weaver into the limits of the Six Nations land ownership by 1847 is shown in Figure 1 (b), p. 526, and includes lands in the southeast corner assigned to the Mississauga in 1848.  Weaver also describes this land, which is consistent with the map, as well as the consolidated Reserve of today. 

1848:  The Chiefs in Council approved a request by the Mississauga of the Credit River to move closer to them, and a block of the southeast corner of the Reserve (near Hagersville) was assigned to them in perpetuity.

1853:  By this year most of the squatters had been removed and compensated.  I have seen the original records, it was a Herculean task.  The Six Nations could now concentrate on forming a coherent community (p. 527).

At the end of her article Weaver provides a lengthy list of her sources.  She collected this information over a substantial period of time while doing ethnographic research at Six Nations.  Her research is found in her unpublished notes between the years 1963 to 1974.  Fortunately Weaver provides the specific records she consulted, including council minutes from the RG10 Indian Affairs series at the National Archives.and records from the 1840s to 1950s from the Six Nations Agency Archives in Brantford (microfilmed by the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford).

The point here is that long before Joan Holmes and Associates conducted their study, submitted to the Corporation of the City of Brantford in 2009, Sally Weaver had basically covered the same research territory.  Although it was not the intent of her work, in the course of exploring the record sources pertaining to the 1840s, Dr. Weaver located the collection of documents that appears to show unequivocally that during the period between 1841 and 1847 the Six Nations Chiefs in Council surrendered all of the land in the Grand River Tract with the exception of the consolidated Reserve of today, along with just over 200 acres of land in Brantford.  Thus one can use her work, just as one can use the research of Holmes et. al. to ferret out the truth as to the present day claims of the Lands and Resources people at Six Nations.  At this point, it seems that none of the land claims can be supported by documentary evidence - but beliefs die hard, when facing a collective belief on the part of most to all of a community.  Here it is much easier with all on the same page to disparage the facts, and ignore the weight of evidence.  Ultimately this approach is doomed to fail.  The truth will eventually win out.


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