It is no small accomplishment, says Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Chief R. Donald Maracle, that nearly one-third of the land that comprises the Culbertson Tract is back under Mohawk control without the nation having to terminate their rights.
“It’s a major milestone because we didn’t have to give up any rights or prejudice any rights. There was no surrender or termination of any rights,” said Maracle.
“We think that’s how it should be done going forward, so it can create a template for future discussions.”
On Oct. 3 in Tyendinaga, Ont., Canada and the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte reached a partial settlement of a land claim that restored more than 299 acres of land to the community.
Past practice by the Canadian government has been for First Nations to extinguish their rights in order to reach agreements or “modern day treaties”.
The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte’s decision not to extinguish their rights on the Culbertson Tract stalled negotiations in 2007.
In a news release outlining the “quick facts” of the negotiations, the Crown-Indigenous Relations ministry says negotiations were “paused…due to incompatible positions.”
In 1995, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte submitted the Culbertson Tract Specific Claim, alleging that the tract had not been surrendered by them, and that the Crown had illegally transferred the tract in 1837. In 2003, the claim was accepted for negotiations under the Specific Claims Policy.
The tract of land had been granted to the ancestors of Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte by the Simcoe Deed in 1793 as recompense for the losses sustained by the Mohawks while supporting the British Crown during the American War of Independence. The nation asserted that the deed was a treaty.
Negotiations for 299.43-acre portion of the Culbertson Tract Specific Claim resumed in 2017.
The partial settlement agreement, which consists of the land and nearly $31 million from the federal government, was ratified by the nation’s membership in a vote last November.
“It’s a significant accomplishment to…regain control of land and compensation for loss of use of land without having to surrender something. We didn’t have to surrender anything and I think that’s why people ratified it,” said Maracle.
The land was acquired through a willing seller/willing buyer process.
The “willing seller” was farmer and private landowner Terry Kimmett.
The land also includes a 20-acre quarry, licensed by the province of Ontario. The province had plans to expand the quarry.
That land was the scene of “some protest activity” in 2007-2008, says Maracle.
“I did object to the expansion of the quarry, which came to my attention during my chieftainship. I put Ontario on notice that we had filed a land claim in 1995 and that we were not giving consent to any development on that property. We put both governments on notice then,” said Maracle.
The settlement agreement includes $315,000 from Ontario, as the province failed to consult with the nation on the quarry.
Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte members will now be consulted on how to use the land, located east of Belleville, and how to prioritize spending of the settlement monies. The $30,974,864 from Ottawa includes compensation for loss of use, costs for negotiations, costs for ratification, and costs for land acquisition.
Maracle won’t make any suggestions for the use of the land but says it may entice some members to move home. As it stands now, he says, the nation has a waiting list of 125 for affordable rental housing.
“There’s construction of houses going on all the time, but there are a lot of band members, younger band members, that don’t own any land anywhere. A lot of the land is held by members, some of them are not selling it, maybe because they’re reserving it for their own families,” he added.
As for the settlement dollars, Maracle says membership could choose to mete out per capita payments, but “I’m not going to speak ahead of the people.”
The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte has put out a call to consultants, asking for proposals by the end of the month.
According to the request for proposals posted on the website, the nation has more than 10,000 members, with approximately one-quarter living on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
“Current roadblocks and barriers to success,” says the document, is the lack of current addresses for all members and a “reluctance from members to participate in the process.”
While consultations are taking place, says the document, “the balance of the financial compensations will be placed in an account and invested to accrue interest…”
While that aspect of the Culbertson Tract is being discussed, Maracle says the nation will continued to move ahead on “regaining control of the (rest of the) land that was never surrendered.”
The remaining 623.4 acres of the Culbertson Tract is part of the town of Deseronto, from Mill Street east.
“We had a discussion with Canada a couple of days ago (about this land) but again these discussions are confidential to our members so I’m really not at liberty to disclose any of the nature of those discussions,” said Maracle.
However, he is adamant that negotiations will not include surrender of the land.
“Really, right now, they’re living on our land for nothing. Half the town is on it. In what world can you live on somebody else’s land for nothing? Where else in Canada is that possible? Right now they’re not paying anything, but it’s been free for all these years, hasn’t it?” said Maracle.
“People are living there with no compensation to the legal owners, to our treaty title holdings.”
Maracle says Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte is also working to acquire reserve land (referred to as Surrender 24) on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. The nation submitted a claim to Ontario in 2020 asserting that Surrender 24 of July 20, 1820 is invalid. In May 2002, Ontario informed the nation it would work on an assessment of the claim submission, which should be completed within three years.
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter