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Council approves next step in transfer of Forester’s Island to Bay of Quinte Mohawks

UPDATE MARCH 8: Council approved waiving payment of the annual tax of $7,500 once the Addition to Reserve process is complete.

Chief R. Don Maracle spoke to council Tuesday night and noted appreciation for the municipality’s support to return the island to the territory.

Councillor Janice Maynard noted the waiving of the taxes “reinforces the friendship and relationship that has long been held with our neighbours” at Tyendinaga.

Dr. Oronhyatekha, (seated) outside the Isle Hotel on Foresters’ Island. – Photo Deseronto Archives

Prince Edward County has given its support to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte to pursue a federal government process to transfer Forester’s Island to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and on Tuesday, will consider waiving payment in lieu of taxes.

Forester’s Island – Google photo

Mayor Steve Ferguson, in a letter earlier this month, told Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation Chief Don Maracle “The County is committed to upholding the values of truth and reconciliation, including the upholding of indigenous treaty rights, and recognizes the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte’s (MBQ) deep investment and desire for the return of the island to its territory, for both cultural and historic reasons.”

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, municipal staff recommend council also waive any payment in lieu of taxes related to the transfer. Annual taxes once the addition to reserve process is complete. Currently there are two parcels of property on the island with a combined annual property tax of $7,500.

Council had sent a letter to the MBQ in January 2021 confirming no objections, and co-operation with the transfer process.

Payment in lieu of taxes is generally made to compensate the municipality for some or all property tax revenue lost due to tax exempt ownership or use of property. The County currently requests this payment for properties owned by the federal and provincial governments.

After more than 15 years of reaching out for conversation and dialogue, the MBQ still face a complicated federal Addition to Reserve process. The County declaring its support was one of a multi-step process.

Today, Forester’s Island remains as two plots of land – one square plot on the north side owned by a County resident and the remainder of the island still owned by the Independent Order of Foresters (IOF) since rebranded as Forester’s Financial, a Toronto-based insurance company).

The island has been treated as part of Sophiasburgh ward for tax collection purposes, though the MBQ contend the island has always been in their jurisdiction as a part of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. The IOF agrees with the MBQ interpretation, having ceremonially transferred their portion of the Island over to the MBQ in 2005.”

Regardless of who the land was originally granted to, Indigenous Services Canada and the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs have stated the only way to transfer the land is via the addition to reserve process through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

The island was granted to Capt. Deseronto (or Deserontyou “where the lightning strikes”) as a reward for services to the Crown, although it was not dated until April 1st, 1793. The island was, for many years, known as “Captain John’s Island”.

The island was also a summer home to one of Tyendinaga’s most famous Mohawks, Dr. Oronhyatekha (1841-1907), who Maracle notes was one of the first Indigenous persons in Canada to train as a physician and was a person of great renown around the world.

Forester’s Island orphanage

Dr. Oronhyatekha had a home in Tyendinaga and built many properties on the island, including an elaborate summer residence, a hotel, gardens and an orphanage. He died in 1907 and is buried at Christ Church, Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal of the Mohawks, in our Territory. How the island was lost from the community in the years that followed Dr. Oronhyatekha’s death is not known,” stated Chief Maracle in a presentation to council last year.

The doctor became involved in the Independent Order of Foresters, later becoming its Supreme Chief Ranger in 1881.

The Castle home of the late Dr. Oronhyatekha. – Photo Deseronto Archives

It is believed the buildings were dismantled in the early years of the 20th century and ownership was transferred to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. There are also later reports of the Tyendinaga Band Council seeking to have the small island transferred to the reserve.

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