*Content warning: Violence against Indigenous children, colonialism
Mohawk Mothers (Kanien’kehá:ka kahnistensera), alongside the Milton Parc Citizens’ Committee (CCPM), led a solidarity march on Nov. 10. Approximately 40 attendees gathered outside the gates of the Allan Memorial Institute on Pine Avenue at 4:30 p.m. to march in solidarity with the Kanien’kehá:ka community. Suspecting the presence of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at the site of the former Royal Victoria Hospital, the community is demanding that McGill launch an Indigenous-led investigation into the site before proceeding any further with the project.
In the 1950s and 60s, Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron experimented with torture techniques at the Allan Memorial Institute, a former psychiatric hospital next to the old Royal Victoria building. The torture techniques ranged from drug-induced comas to intensive electroconvulsive therapy aimed at reprogramming the brain. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Kawinaa, a Kanien’kehá:ka kahnistensera (Mohawk Mother), speculated that Indigenous children were among the victims of Cameron’s experimentation, and that they were buried at the site.
“People who were non-natives and who were in for treatment had seen them, and would at night hear digging,” Kawinaa said. “The public needs to understand that our children are missing and never came home.”
In an email to the Tribune, Frédérique Mazerolle, a McGill media relations officer stated that McGill seeks to work closely with Indigenous communities.
“We are committed to collaborating with governments and Indigenous community leadership to undertake the work necessary to investigate this concern,” Mazerolle wrote. “The critical conversations between Indigenous communities and McGill University will continue through every stage of the New Vic project.”
Kahentinetha, a Mohawk Mother of the Bear Clan and founder of Mohawk Nation News, gave a speech at the march denouncing the government and McGill for failing to genuinely consult Indigenous communities. She insisted that both bodies need to receive consent from Indigenous communities before further developing plans for the site.
“This place was taken from us a long time ago,” Kahentinetha explained. “It was never handed over or sold. It is our responsibility to take care of that land. Now they are trying to make the project bigger. This entity is McGill University. We don’t want an apology, we want something done about this. We want an investigation done by us because this is our jurisdiction. We want our land and children back to us.”
Mazerolle outlined McGill’s efforts in consulting Indigenous communities on the project.
“Since January 2021, there have been several exchanges, including information sessions and roundtable discussions with Indigenous education organizations, Mohawk alumni, and Elders,” Mazerolle wrote. “Our efforts include initiatives that recognize the history and ongoing presence and contributions of Indigenous peoples on our campuses, and the creation of cultural and living spaces that welcome and support Indigenous students, faculty, staff, and community members.”
March attendee Mia LeBlanc, U3 Arts, believes that McGill’s statements acknowledging and supporting Indigenous communities are more performative than genuine.
“I don’t think they really support the Indigenous community,” LeBlanc said in an interview with the Tribune.
At the march, Kawinaa explained to the Tribune that McGill borrowed Indigenous trust money—money the Canadian government held, according to Kahentinetha, for the Iroquois trust fund—to finance the construction of McGill, yet this money was never given back to them.
“McGill is basically owned by the Kanien’kehá:ka people, we founded the school,” Kawinaa said. “McGill needs to acknowledge Indigenous sovereignty.”