By Robert MacBain
Before surrendering to the Cayuga detachment of the OPP on May 19, 2021, Skyler Williams, spokesperson for protesters blocking construction at a housing site in Caledonia since July 19, 2020, said: “Our people should not be expected to have to put our lives and freedoms on the line to defend what is rightfully ours.”
Mr. Williams recently claimed that the Six Nations (Iroquois) people have lived in the Grand River area “for the last 10,000 years”; have a special connection with the McKen- zie Meadows site in Caledonia because “our bodies are made of this clay”; and they are “bringing life to this clay like our ancestors before us.”
The misnamed “Land Defenders” who are building houses and planting gardens at McKenzie Meadows – despite court injunctions ordering them off the property – say they are “reclaiming” the land for future generations. They also claim that the developer was building on “stolen land.”
However, the land they are “reclaiming” is, in fact, part of the ancestral territory of the Neutral (Attawandaron) people who occupied the Grand River area at the time of European contact. The only theft of that land occurred in the mid-1600s when the Six Na- tions (Iroquois) expelled the Neutrals from the Grand River area.
At the time of European contact, the much-feared Six Nations (Iroquois) were living on their ancestral lands in upstate New York. When they ran out of beaver furs to trade in the mid-1600s, they moved north armed with guns they got from the Dutch and English and removed the Neutrals from the Grand River area. After expelling the Neu- trals – as they did the Petuns and Hurons – they used the Grand River area for hunting and trapping until Ojibways from the north shore of Lake Huron moved south in the late 1600s and forced them back to New York.
That’s why it was from the Mississaugas (Ojibways) that Governor General Frederick Haldimand purchased 384,451 hectares on both sides of the Grand River in 1784 for the Six Nations people who lost their ancestral lands by supporting the British in the Ameri- can Revolutionary War. They didn’t settle in the Grand River area until 1785 – 177 years after the founding of Quebec City.
It’s worth noting that the Haldimand Proclamation is not a treaty. The only person who signed it was Governor General Haldi- mand – who retained the right to change or revoke it at will. The hereditary chiefs were not involved. The lands in the Haldimand TractweregrantedattherequestofMohawk Captain Joseph Brant, an officer in the Brit- ish Army.
It has been widely reported that the Six Nations people now occupy only about 5% of the 384,451 hectares purchased for them in 1784. However, Captain Joseph Brant dis- posed of more than 141,000 hectares under authority of the hereditary chiefs. Other lands were illegally sold to white settlers by individ- ual members of Six Nations.
Because of this vast transfer of lands and the hereditary chiefs’ inability to pre- vent further encroachments, the Six Nations people agreed to consolidate their holdings within the borders of the current reserve in 1844. There were as many white settlers in the area as there were Six Nations people.
The hereditary chiefs surrendered the rest of the Haldimand Tract and agreed that the lands outside the current reserve would be sold by the Crown.
The claim the Elected Council of Six Nations of the Grand River filed against the federal and provincial governments in 1995 does not dispute the fact that lands outside the current reserve were surrendered in 1844. The claim is solely about the proceeds from the sales.
That’s why the Elected Council confirmed that the developer of the McKenzie Meadows housing project had no legal obligation to enter into an accommodation agreement with them and hand over $352,000 in cash and 17 hectares on Indian Line Road.
Bottom line. There is no legal or moral justification for the “Land Defenders” to be blocking construction at the McKenzie Meadows housing site.
Robert MacBain was a senior reporter at the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail and spent 28 years as a public relations con- sultant. His book on the Mohawk protests/ blockades at Caledonia and Tyendinaga, the Indian residential schools, and other Indigenous issues will be released in May, 2022. His website is RobertMacBainBooks.ca.