Forester’s Island to be part of Tyendinaga once again

Forester's Island from the top of the Skyway Bridge (Gazette Photo by Carrie Parks)
SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

Repatriation of Forester’s Island to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (MBQ) is closer to completion with the latest report from County of Prince Edward staff.

A report by Emily Cowan, Director of Community Services, Programs and Initiatives submitted to Council Tuesday reiterates council’s support for giving Forester’s Island to the MBQ via the federal Additions to Reserve program and suggests Prince Edward County Council waive payment in lieu of property taxes (PILPT).

As per the report, in January of this year Mayor Steve Ferguson received a letter from Chief R. Donald Maracle with the intent of understanding what amount of payment in lieu of taxes would be expected of the MBQ when the island changed jurisdictions. There are two parcels of land on Forester’s Island with a combined annual property tax of $7,500.

“Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) is defined as a payment made to compensate a government for some or all of the property tax revenue lost due to tax exempt ownership or use of real property. The County of Prince Edward currently requests PILTs for properties owned by the Federal and Provincial Government. Generally speaking, PILTs are calculated the same way as property taxes; by applying the corresponding tax rate to the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) assessed value of the property,” explained Cowan.

Based on the current MPAC assessment for the island, the municipality will incur a loss of approximately $7,500 yearly should they accept the recommendations of the report.

Cowan noted this amount will change as the property is reassessed as part of the province-wide property reassessment.

As per previous Gazette coverage of this issue, the request to repatriate the island was initially made by the MBQ in 2005.

Dr. Oronhyatekha

The island in question was gifted to the first Mohawk Chief of Tyendinaga, Captain John Deserontyon. This was following the Mohawks’ years of service in the American Revolution and subsequent move to Canada with the Loyalists.

Importantly, the island was purchased by Canada’s first Indigenous physican Dr. Oronhyatekha. Though Oronhyatekha was originally from the Six Nations Reserve of Grand River, he had strong familial ties to Tyendinaga.

During their Regular Council Meeting on March 8th, Maracle spoke to council providing some background information as to why Forester’s Island is important to the MBQ and some insight into the larger than life Oronhyatekha.

“Dr. Oronhyatekha was a person of national historic importance to our community,” said Maracle. “His history is very important to the people of the Six Nations and the MBQ.

Maracle added he was born at a time when education beyond residential schools was not available to most Indigenous people.

Oronhyatekha studied in the United States, which Maracle pointed out was unusual for the time. He also studied at Oxford, though was required to come back to Canada before too long lest an Indian Agent strip him of his status.

“If an Indian was gone from a reserve too long the Indian Agent could strike their name from the band list and they’d lose status,” said Maracle.

Of note, Oronhyatekha was one of the first Indigenous people to be become a practicing physician with the college of physicians and surgeons, stated Maracle.

He was also chairman of the Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec and kept the company of royalty around the world.

“He was friends with prime ministers, queens and kings, the emperor of Japan …but more importantly his efforts and successes have had a profound effect on the social and economic policies of Canada,” said Maracle. “In 1937, the Ontario Historical Society erected a plaque in his honour and in 2005 he was designated a person of national historic importance. He was true to his history and proud of his language and identity as a Mohawk. He was a person from our community but also an ordinary man. His history is tied to our history and that of our community. I’m pleased we can celebrate that together.”

Councillor Bill Roberts expressed disappointment that Forester’s Island was not returned to the MBQ more quickly but was enthusiastic about the current council’s steps toward repatriating the island, noting that doing so is an important step toward truth and reconciliation.

Sophiasburgh Councillor Bill Roberts (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

“I think all of us appreciate this has been a long journey-especially for the MBQ, but for our council as well. A lot has happened in the truth and reconciliation process and I think many of us are perhaps disappointed this process is taking more time than we thought it would,” said Roberts. “With regards to truth, there’s so many competing and contradicting truths that are passionately held. It seems actual, comprehensive truth may be a victim for the moment. But justice isn’t. Justice and reconciliation are very possible for the short term. Reaffirming the County’s support for the federal return (of Forester’s Island) to the MBQ would be a practical and tangible exercise in reconciliation.

Roberts added he thinks the waiving of tax dollars is “something of imminent good sense”.

“Finally, I think the truth and reconciliation report speaks about constructive action and I think that means being useful and practical and taking action. So, not just saying things but doing things and we’re doing something very important here tonight for the truth and reconciliation process,” stated Roberts.

Councillor Janice Maynard added that waiving the taxes is a gesture that helps to reinforce the friendship between the County and the MBQ, while Councillor Kate MacNaughton stated that it’s nice to have an opportunity to be part of giving back Forester’s Island.

“This is not a very difficult motion to contemplate,” said MacNaughton. “It’s nice to have an opportunity to be part of this.”

Mayor Steve Ferguson spoke last to the item, noting he’s glad the matter is finally being dealt with after having been raised in the early 2000s

“Up until this point, this is a matter that hasn’t been dealt with since it was raised back in the early 2000’s, so I’m glad we’re at this point,” stated Ferguson.

The report, including the recommendations of staff, was received unanimously by council.