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County to investigate process to return island to Bay of Quinte Mohawks

UPDATE: A wait of some 15 years for answers may be ending as council directed staff to create a report detailing required steps, in consultation with the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, for the repatriation process to facilitate the return of Forester’s Island to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. The report is due in January, 2021.

“We have been waiting for 15 years for an answer from the County and I hope that we can have a positive answer,” Maracle stated. “We need to find out what we need to carry on.”

“We are not going to let you suffer another 15-year gap,” Mayor Steve Ferguson stated. “For as long as I’ve known you since 2015, you have made it quite clear that this is important for you and your people, so we want to give it the attention and respect that it deserves.”

NOV 10: Tyendinaga Chief R. Don Maracle is seeking discussion with council to add Foresters Island to the Mohawk Territory. He is scheduled to make a deputation to council Tuesday night.

Gorester’s Island – Google photo

He states the island, situated south of Deseronto in Mohawk Bay, in the Bay of Quinte, currently falls within the provincially-mandated jurisdiction of Prince Edward County.

The island now known as Foresters 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.

“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 lot from the community in the years that followed Dr. Oronhyatekha’s death is not known,” states Maracle.

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

Forester’s Island orphanage

He donated land for an orphanage able to house 250 children, which opened on Aug. 6th, 1905. It was only in operation for 18 months, closing in 1907, in debt, the year of Oronhyatekha’s death.

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.

“Currently the island is held in fee simple title by the Independent Order of Foresters fraternal organization, less two small cottage lots,” Maracle explains. “At a ceremony on Aug. 21, 2005, for the unveiling of two national historic site plaques commemorating the significance of Christ Church and Dr. Oronhyatekh, the IOF recognized the Mowhawks of the Bay of Quinte as the rightful owners of the island and ceremonially turned it over to our possession,” said Maracle, asking council for a meeting to discuss the addition of the island to the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

In August, council approved looking at ways to celebrate and educate on its Indigenous history, but decided not to involve itself with Quinte West efforts to better profile and identify the Gunshot Treaty cairn at Carrying Place, or investigate “complicated” issues with Forester’s Island between the County, and Deseronto.

All councillors, except Bill Roberts, were in opposition at the August meeting, noting the island said to be mired in issues that are the federal government’s jurisdiction.

Roberts stated the Bay of Quinte Mohawks have been reaching out for conversation and dialogue going back at least two councils. He added “no one can explain what happened” relating to issues regarding ownership, environmental assessments and property taxes. It was stated taxes are paid from an individual and a group.

“It’s unfinished business,” said Roberts, in August. “We need a common set of facts”.

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