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Ratification vote brings controversial land and $25M into Mohawk control

After 17 years of negotiation, the Tyendinaga Mohawk Council announced Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, that the membership of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte had ratified the Culbertson Tract Partial Settlement Agreement.

Official seal of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. Submitted.

This Agreement will restore 299.43 acres of land to the administration and control of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (MBQ), which was illegally transferred by the Crown in 1837 without a surrender. The Agreement also brings more than $25 million, representing loss of use of that land for over 180 years, that will benefit the present and future members of the MBQ.

2,045 members of the MBQ voted, with just over 95 per cent of the votes cast in favour of ratifying the partial settlement agreement. Chief R. Donald Maracle said, “I am very pleased by the voter turnout and the very high level of support for the Culbertson Tract Partial Settlement Agreement.”

“This is a significant day for our community and in our history. Our original Mohawk Tract has been greatly reduced by surrenders and other alienations, many of which are suspicious and, in this case, simply illegal,” said Chief Maracle. “Today, we have demonstrated that it is possible to reverse this trend and to reacquire administration and control of our land illegally taken from us.”

However, Maracle pointed out, “This agreement does not affect the balance of the Culbertson Tract negotiations and we look forward to continuing the work on having the remaining 623.4 acres of the Culbertson Tract restored.”

The history of the Culbertson Tract is complicated and to this day remains controversial.  

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

After the end of the American Revolution, displaced Loyalists were given tracts of land along the St. Lawrence River and on the north side of Lake Ontario. Among the Loyalists were Mohawk people who had fought on the British side in the war. Captain John Deseronto (c. 1740 -1811) was a prominent war chief who had lost his lands at Fort Hunter in the Mohawk Valley (now in New York State).

“Deseronto” or sometimes “Deserontyon” is the English corruption of his Kanyen’kéha name, Odeserundiye, which he used in place of a surname.

Deserontyon and about 20 families of Fort Hunter Mohawks were compensated for their loss with approximately 90,000 acres of land located on the north side of the Bay of Quinte. Deserontyon himself took possession of 900 acres on the waterfront at the eastern edge of the territory.

The grant was made official on April 1, 1793, in a document known as the Simcoe Deed (also known as Treaty 3 ½ ) as a result of Deserontyon’s insistence and complaints of settlers squatting on the Mohawk Tract.

Odeserundiye, Captain John Deserontyon. Public Domain.

The document promises the land to “the Chiefs, Warriors, Women and People of the said Six Nations” and their heirs “forever freely and clearly of and from all manner of Rents, Fines or Services whatsoever.”

The Simcoe Deed states that: “if at any time the said Chiefs, Warriors, Women and People of the said Six Nations should be inclined to dispose of and Surrender their Use and Interest in the said District or Territory, the same shall be purchased only for Us in our name at some Public Meeting or Assembly of the Chiefs, Warriors and People of the said Six Nations to be held for that purpose by the Governor or Person Administering Our Government in Our Province of Upper Canada.”

When Deserontyon died in 1811, his lands were inherited by his grandson, John Culbertson. In 1836, Culbertson obtained a grant from the Crown for the lands on which his grandfather had settled, and on Feb. 17, 1837, 923.4 acres of the Mohawk Tract were illegally patented to John Culbertson, without complying with the requirements in the Simcoe Deed.

In September 1995, MBQ submitted a Specific Claim against Canada and Ontario seeking the return of the Culbertson Tract land to the administration and control of the MBQ, and financial compensation for loss of use from 1837 to the present.

However, there are some who argue that the 1995 Specific Land Claim filed by the MBQ Band Council over the Culbertson Tract is based on the alienation of those lands from the Mohawks of the Six Nations. On the Podcast What’s Goin’ On, Mohawk Bear Clan elder Gene Hill, said, “The Simcoe Deed, they didn’t give [the land] to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. That was given to the Confederacy.” 

Hill went on, “Any land dealings that we do, any place they’re all supposed to come together, no matter if they’re on the American side, or Caughnawaga, Brantford, etc., they’re handling this all by themselves, and it’s very illegal.” 

Another Mohawk elder, Mario Baptiste of the Wolf Clan, told the interviewer, “They got that land back under the terms of the Simcoe because they were violated. Now, they want us to violate that very same Simcoe, by going along with this bullshit [vote] that they’ve scammed up.”

MBQ Band Council “have no authority, no jurisdiction,” said Baptiste, “They are not heirs. The Indian act was not in power then, so how can they be heirs?”

The Indian Act was not created until 1876. That act’s main goal was to force the First Nations peoples to lose their culture and become like Euro-Canadians.

Despite this, Canada accepted the Culbertson Tract claim for settlement negotiations in 2003. 

The Partial Settlement Agreement will now go to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs (Canada) for signature by the Minister in the near future, once the federal cabinet appointments take place.

Within 45 days following that signature, the financial component of the settlement will be paid into an interest-bearing account with BMO Nesbitt-Burns, and the process for federal confirmation of the land as reserve will begin.

The Council states it will now embark upon a process of engagement with the membership to discuss options for the use of the compensation.

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