Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte take first step toward reconciliation with partial settlement of historic claim

Chief R. Donald Maracle with the Council of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relation and Northern Affairs, participate in a signing ceremony at the conclusion of a partial settlement agreement regarding the Culbertson Tract Specific Claim. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

History was made today, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, as Chief R. Donald Maracle with the Council of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relation and Northern Affairs, participated in a signing ceremony and announced the conclusion of a partial settlement agreement regarding the Culbertson Tract Specific Claim. 

Along with the nearly 300 acres, the partial settlement will see the First Nation given $30 million in compensation. 

“This is a significant day for our community and in our history,” said Chief Donald Maracle. “Our original Mohawk Tract has been greatly reduced by surrenders and other alienations, many of which are suspicious and, in this case, simply illegal. With the signing of the Culbertson Tract Partial Settlement Agreement, we have demonstrated that it is possible to reverse this trend and reaffirm the administration and control of our land illegally taken from us. We look forward to continuing the work on having the remaining 623.4 acres of the Culbertson Tract restored to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.” 

In 1793, the Mohawk Tract was granted to the ancestors of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte by the Simcoe Deed in recompense for the losses sustained by the Mohawks as a result of their ongoing loyalty to the British Crown during the American War of Independence. A particular procedure was specified for surrenders and sales of any of that Tract, and since 1793 the original Mohawk Tract has been reduced to less than one-third of its original size.

The original Mohawk Tract lands in purple, the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory today in yellow, and the Culbertson Tract in orange. Screenshot from Google Maps.

The specific claim arises from the unlawful 1837 alienation of 923.4 acres of unsurrendered land, known as the Culbertson Tract, in breach of the Simcoe Deed, which the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte assert to be a treaty.

“This historic settlement with the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte shows what we can achieve when we work together to reach shared solutions guided by the values of respect and partnership,” said Minister Miller. “We acknowledge Canada’s failure to protect your community’s right to your land, and we reaffirm our commitment to addressing this wrong.”

In accordance with a separate agreement with the fee simple owner of the 299.43 acres, the land will be acquired by BMO, as trustee, and in due course will be confirmed as reserve land, subject to the completion of environmental remediation. The settlement will provide the First Nation with compensation totalling $30,974,864 and includes a route for the confirmation of approximately one-third of the Culbertson Tract as reserve land.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Mario Baptiste, centre in camouflage sweater to his friend and former protest mate, Jerome Barnhart to his left. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Not everyone at the ceremony was happy about the agreement. When Chief Don suggested that the assembly pose for photographers with “a nice big reconciliation smile,” a man could be heard scoffing at the back of the room, “It’s a disgrace, what a disgrace.”

That man was Mario Baptiste, a familiar face at multiple blockades and other protests in support of Indigenous issues though he prefers the term “Indian.” He was accompanied by Jerome Barnhart, another man connected with historic land protests.

In an impromptu interview, Baptiste called the ceremony a “big scam” and the land settlement “outright theft.”

“These are the two parties that originally took it [the land],” he scoffed. “Now they’re giving it back to each other. And $30 million. There was a lot of people, young people, who were arrested, and jailed… and had firearms in their face. They all have criminal records… What the hell’s going on? And now they’re having a celebration here.”

“We get the land back, but we’ll never be able to utilize it the land. We never will be able to live on it,” added Barnhart, who doesn’t believe there will be a fulsome consultation with the Mohawk people about the use of the land. “We’re running out of land here on this territory [for homes] and what is available is held by the Band Council, and the people are not entitled to the land.”

“First thing, you gotta understand there are two types [of people on the territory] one’s native and the other is Indian,” explained Baptiste. “Native or ‘indigenous’ were created by the Indian Act that was created by the Federal government. Who is he?” he indicated the chief, “Who is trading the land back and forth? They took it out the front door the first time. Now they’re taking it out the back door.”

Minister Miller acknowledged more needs to be done to address the historical wrongs done to the land and its people, saying on behalf of the federal government, “I want to acknowledge that Canada failed to protect your community and your right to this land and reaffirm our commitment to addressing this. This respects and acknowledges Canada’s step forward and working with you to continue to work on a culture of respect.”

The Band Council will consult the community on the disposition of the settlement funds and the future use of the partial settlement land, and negotiations on the balance of the Culbertson Tract Specific Claim will continue, said Chief Don.

“Today we are here to celebrate a milestone accomplishment in our Culbertson negotiations, to have the land that was never surrendered, returned to our control,” the Chief said. “And this is a step… it’s a template for the future and we look forward to discussing that with the crown.” 

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