We cannot remake history

Letter - The Regional

January 12, 2011

Reply to Mrs. Miller Six Nations Councillor Re Halidmand Tract.

If we could see the future we would all do the right things and we would all be rich. But since we cannot see the future we must stumble blindly along and hope for the best.

General Haldimand bought the Haldimand Tract from one of the six Mississauga tribes in 1784, 227 years ago. It seems they were not the rightful owners and were just passers by with a temporary camp in the Niagara area. Later this tribe moved on to Detroit. They were later know as the lost Mississaugas and reunited with the main group in the Manitoulin Island Lake Huron and Lake Superior areas. But they did not mind signing a dodument saying they owned the land and sold it to the crown.

The tribe that had occupied the area historically before this time was the Attawonderons. The Attawonderons had chosen to be neutrals and not be involved in the tribal wars which were numerous. The Iroquois were of a mind that if you are not with us you are against us and so they exterminated all the Attawonderons. The Iroquois could have occupied the land but they did not need any more land for their use so it was abandoned. It was just vacant land to be occupied by whoever came along.

General Haldimand was a great man for creating paperwork and needed to have a tribal authority to sign off the land to the Crown. Then he could make a legal gift of it to the Six Nations. The reason for the gift was that the six nations (actually five nations, the New York Mississaugas came later) had participated on the English side of the American Revolution in the defense of the land. The Six Nations had lost land and property to the Americans. The Crown felt that any native group that participated in the defense was welcome and this was to compensate them for any losses they had in the war with the Americans. The Mississaugas of New York were driven out and welcomed to the six nation group. The Crown paid to have the Haldiamnd Tract surveyed to authenticate the boundaries.

The gift from the Crown to the Six Nations was only used where the reserve boundaries are today. The Six Nations found that it was far more land than they could use and most of it was a mosquito infested black fly swamp that required a great deal of work to make the land usable. The Six Nations wanted the unused portions sold for whatever price the Crown could get. When Chief Joseph Brant made his agreements to sell off some of the tract, the moneys were to be put into trust for the natives. The Crown had paid out funds to have the land surveyed. If the land was to be sold off in small acreages it would need to be surveyed again. There would also be legal fees, realtor fees, land registry fees and so on. It would seem the Crown was expending more and more money on something that was supposed to be a gift and was being pushed back at them to be disposed of. A fair price at the time may have been what General Haldimand paid the Mississaugas which was next to nothing.

The white settlers were more determined to clear the rejected land than the Six Nations. The white settlers had nowhere to go back to. It was make it here or die; many died in the trying. The value received for the neglected and abandoned lands was what it was worth at the time. When you abandon something to somebody else's care for sale you only get what they consider fair, like when a house today goes up for auction.

You cannot change history or correct it to satisfy everyone involved. Making it right for one person would never satisfy the other side or other parties. History is history: you cannot change the warts of the past.

The descendents of slaves cannot ask for compensation for the ancestors. That is not going to help the dead. It cannot help the living. It will only ingrain feelings of being treated unjustly. This will never allow peace to heal the communities. The people today did not make the past and the people today should not have to pay or suffer for the wrongs of others.

In Scotland from 1750 to 1850 all the people were cleared off the land to make way for sheep. There was no consideration for where they would live or if they lived or died.

When the English lords were governing Ireland they passed English laws that would not allow an Irishman the right to own any assets whatsoever. When the potato famine came there were plenty of beef cattle but the English lords would rather sell their cattle on the market than feed the starving Irish. Millions were left to die or told to leave the country.

What about the Jewish people? The Nazi government tried to exterminate them and there were 5 or 6 million killed.

Throughout Africa they employ the tribal system like you have here. They have the same controls over land by the chief or council. But all the tribes till participate in the national and local governments that are outside the tribal areas. In the recent genocide in Africa of the Tutsi people in Rwanda in 1994, 800,000 died and the world did nothing. Stability reigns again and the Tutsi once again are participating in government, bands and commerce.

Consider the Chinese of 1890 to 1900 who were railway labourers. They expected to live here permanently but were not considered equals and were sent back to China. Ukrainians were imprisoned in 1914 to 1920 and used as slaves to build Banff Park. All Ukrainian properties were confiscated and never returned or paid for. The Japanese of 1941 had all their west coast property confiscated and never returned.

The past of all peoples and all nations seems to be riddled with misery. For every bit of happiness or advancement there seems to be a dump truck load of misery. But we cannot relive the past or make corrections to the past. If we travel that road the misery will never leave us. There will be no future until you allow the past to die in the past.

All of us everywhere can look back if we choose and find ancestors that received short shrift somewhere. What good would it do? Would that make our business or job any better or easier? If anything it would make life much more difficult. So, Mrs. Miller, I strongly suggest if you do not want to see your young generation going through this scenario again and again that you choose a less confrontational path for the future and let's build a future together.

Paul Foyster

Hagersville