Canada seeks to break Simcoe Deed Treaty with the Mohawks of the Six Nations

The administrative arm of the Canadian Federal Government – the Mohawks of the Bay Quinte Band Council – is asking its band members to approve the “settling and releasing” of Fee Simple title to 299 acres of the Culbertson Tract to Canada through a vote that breaks the terms of the Simcoe Deed. 

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY – The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (MBQ) Band Council are an arm of the Federal Government that administers the Indian Act in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. In a package sent from the company OneFeather in Victoria, BC, in August, the MBQ Band Council announced the holding of a vote from Sept 5th to 25th, 2021 that would violate numerous terms of the Simcoe Deed, also known by Canada as Treaty 3 ½. 

The vote asks MBQ Band Members to authorize a “Partial Settlement Agreement” that would see the MBQ Band Council receive a $30 million dollar payout from Canada as compensation for a loss of usage of 299 acres of the Culbertson Tract for the past 184 years. If they vote in favour of the agreement, the members of the MBQ will have authorized the surrender of the “Fee Simple title” of these lands to the Canadian Government via a third party Trustee. The 299 acres that will be surrendered by the voting members to Canada will then be added through the Indian Act to Reserve #164, administered by the MBQ Band Council under the Indian Act and will have become a part of Canada. 

The MBQ Band Council is attempting to coerce its members – in collusion with the Canadian government – to allow 12.5% + one of the members of the registry that Canada maintains as the “heirs” to the Simcoe Deed, to “settle and release” the Fee Simple title of Mohawk lands to Canada. The MBQ Band Council is attempting to trick the members to relinquish everyone’s share of the settlement monies to the Indian Act Band Council, rather than following the customary act of equally dividing the proceeds of collective wealth among the heirs of the Simcoe Deed, as was done with cattle, flour, and money. 

In negotiations, Canada held the position that the Culbertson Lands are not a portion of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, are no longer subject to the provisions of the Simcoe Deed, and are not lands reserved for the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. According to the agreement, “Canada maintains that the reserve status of the Culbertson Tract can only be established by Canada acquiring title to the Culbertson Tract and the Claim Land and formally setting them apart as reserve in accordance with Canada’s policies and procedures.”

A map of the Culbertson Tract outlined in orange.

The terms of the settlement attempt to protect Canada from the legal consequences of breaking the Simcoe Deed, as the MBQ Band Council  “agree[s] to indemnify and forever save Canada harmless from any proceeding brought by any Person.” The plain language summary of the Partial Settlement agreement notes that, “If following a successful ratification, anybody was to sue Canada for anything having to do with this partial settlement, the MBQ [Band Council] will compensate Canada for any of its losses. This is a standard clause in any settlement agreement and is very unlikely to ever happen because no other person or group has interests or rights that are affected by the partial settlement agreement.” 

This of course belies the fact that the Bay of Quinte Mohawks living at Six Nations, the Walker Mohawks, Lower Mohawks, Upper Mohawks, and all the other Mohawks who lost their lands in the war against the Americans, have a direct interest in the lands at the Bay of Quinte. This includes the Confederacy Chiefs Council, the Rotiskenrakehte or warriors society, the various clan councils of the Mohawks who continue to practice their customary government and still adhere to their clan system, and potentially others of the various Six Nations as well as the Lenape who were allies of the Mohawks in the American revolution (and who are often referred to as the “such others”).

In violation of the Simcoe Deed, the vote will be held online without any public consultation or in-person meetings due to “limitations imposed by Covid-19 restrictions” although Zoom meetings will be held after the voting period has begun, on Sept. 7, 14, 18, and 21. On September 25th, in person voting will take place at the Federally operated Quinte Mohawk Indian Day School from 9am to 8pm. 

The Indian Act was imposed on the Mohawk people during the same era that attendance at Day Schools and Residential Schools were made mandatory. The membership of the MBQ was determined by the Canadian government through the provisions of the Indian Act when it sent Indian Agents to Tyendinaga to sign up people on a Band List. This system excluded the descendents of many Mohawk women with clans who were removed from the Band List or never added to it, and who were then forced by Canadian police to leave the reserve in accordance with Indian Act policy.

What is the Simcoe Deed and the Culbertson Tract? 

The following Google map shows the land granted in the Simcoe Deed of 1793 bounded in a purple line. The boundaries of what Canada calls the “Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Reserve #164” are shown in yellow outline. The Culbertson Tract is marked in orange with a white boundary. 

The Simcoe Deed, also known as Treaty 3½, was issued by the Crown on April 1st 1793, as a result of Captain John’s Deserontyon complaints of settler squatters on the Mohawk Tract at the Bay of Quinte. The document promises an area of about 385km square on the north shore of the Bay of Quinte to “the Chiefs, Warriors, Women and People of the said Six Nations” and their “heirs for ever” in compensation for their losses in the American revolution. The document states that “the full and entire possession, Use benefit and advantage of the said District or Territory of Land to be held and enjoyed by them in the most free and ample manner and according to the several Customs and usages by them” and their heirs, “for ever freely and clearly of and from all and all manner of Rents, Fines or Services whatsoever.”

The 385km2 of land listed in the Simcoe Deed boundaries is much smaller than the land base originally agreed to by the Crown and Mohawk Captain John Deserontyon, and the size of the lands recognized in the Simcoe Deed continue to be the subject of much debate and acrimony between the Mohawks and the Crown. 

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 Feb 17, 1837, when 923.4 acres of the Mohawk Tract were patented to John Culbertson, a paternal grandson of Mohawk Captain John Deserontyon, in violation of the protocol outlined in the terms of the Simcoe Deed for surrendering territory. 

The Simcoe Deed explicitly 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 perchased 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.”

The reference to the “Chiefs, Warriors, Women and People” of the said Six Nations refers to Onkwehon:we traditional governance systems which set out specific protocols and councils for making decisions. The Chiefs refer to the title holders of the Kayenereko:wa, the warriors to the Rotiskenrakehte or warriors society, and the Women and people to the Clan mothers and the people as a whole. The listing of these separate councils ensure that any land surrenders were fully approved by the people and followed the protocols of the Kayenerekowa.

In order to take the Culbertson Tract lands out of the control and jurisdiction of the “Chiefs, Warriors, Women and People of the Six Nations” in 1837, the Crown was required by the Simcoe Deed to call a big meeting or assembly and to discuss the matter with the Chiefs, Warriors, Women, and People of the Six Nations. They did not do so, and instead issued a land patent to John Culbertson, who proceeded to subdivide the land and sold it to non-Indigenous people who moved in and built most of the current day town of Deseronto. 

By not following the process outlined in the Simcoe Deed for the Culbertson Tract Settlement, the MBQ Band Council is repeating the egregious act made by the Crown 184 years ago, and continuing a legacy of dispossession, fraud and deception. 

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