Truth and Reconciliation in the Haldimand Tract

Take a look at this map:


(Map courtesy of Six Nations Lands and Resources)

See the grey part? That’s the Haldimand Tract: the area reserved by the British Crown for the Six Nations (or Haudenosaunee) after they lost their home in the Mohawk Valley of New York State because they sided with the British during the American Revolution. In 1784, Sir Frederick Haldimand, the Governor-General of Quebec, wrote,

I do hereby in His Majesty’s name authorize and permit the said Mohawk Nation, and such other of the Six Nation Indians as wish to settle in that Quarter to take Possession of, & Settle upon the Banks of the River commonly called Ours [Ouse] or Grand River, running into Lake Erie, allotting to them for that Purpose Six Miles deep from each Side of the River beginning at Lake Erie, & extending in that Proportion to the Head of the said River, which them & their Posterity are to enjoy for ever.

Now, see the orange section inside the grey? That’s the current Six Nations reserve, just southeast of Brantford.That reserve covers less than five per cent of the original Haldimand Tract.

What happened to the rest of the territory Haldimand reserved for the Six Nations? For years, I assumed that the they sold it, that the land transfers were legitimate. But the truth isn’t that simple. In fact, most of the land was simply stolen. Some of it was sold to settlers, it’s true, but the money from those sales was, in turn, stolen by the government bureaucrats who managed the Six Nations’ trust fund.

I grew up in Brantford. The house my parents owned, the schools I attended, the church I was taken to on Sundays: it’s all on land stolen from the Haudenosaunee, just like most of the rest of the city.

You don’t have to take my word for it: the Six Nations’ Lands and Resources department has done a great job of documenting what happened to the land reserved for them by the Haldimand Proclamation. Canadians might not know what happened, but the Haudenosaunee do.

When I learned about this truth–when I learned that, once again, Canada had broken a treaty with a group of Indigenous people–I was angry and ashamed. And, because the land in question is the place where I grew up, I felt implicated. I wanted to do something. Writing a letter to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Development didn’t seem like it’d be enough. After all, the Six Nations have been pressing forward with almost 30 separate land claims since the early 1980s, and the federal government has been resisting them every step of the way. So far, in 30 years, one of those land claims has been resolved. At this rate, it’ll take a thousand years for Canada to make things right.

I decided to walk through the Haldimand Tract, from the village of Dundalk, near the source of the Grand River, to Port Maitland, where the river flows into Lake Erie. This walk is a site-specific performance, a pilgrimage, a way of discovering the extent of the territory that was reserved for the Haudenosaunee, and then stolen from them, with my body, with the muscles in my legs and the bones in my feet. That’s the reason for the performance’s title: Muscle and Bone. It’s a gesture, a small one, towards reconciliation.

I’ll be making this performance during the last two weeks of June, and using this blog to let people know about my progress, about the people I meet and the things I see.

If you follow my journey through the Haldimand Tract, please consider making a donation to the Woodland Cultural Centre’s “Save the Evidence” campaign. The Centre is looking to raise $1 million to repair the building that housed the former Mohawk Institute–the residential school in Brantford, to raise another injustice visited by Canada on Indigenous people–and to establish a museum about residential schools there. You can donate using Paypal at the Woodland Cultural Centre’s web site, or if you prefer you can send a cheque to the Woodland Cultural Centre at PO Box 1506, Brantford, ON N3T 5V6 ATTN: Save the Evidence. It would be great if you were able to donate a sum divisible by 300, since I’ll be walking 300 kilometres, but any amount will help. Nya: węh–thank you–for giving generously. Your gifts are another way to begin the process of reconciliation with the Haudenosaunee.