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Kanien’kehà:ka Kahnistensera address Pope’s visit, press for further investigation into possible graves at Royal Victoria site

The Kanien’kehà:ka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers) held a joint rally and press conference on July 27 to call for the removal of the cross at the top of Mount Royal in the wake of the Pope’s arrival in Canada. The Mohawk Mothers also updated the public on their legal proceedings with McGill over the New Vic Project, which the university says will go ahead as planned. The event, hosted by the Milton Parc Citizens’ Committee (CCMP), took place by the Mordecai Richler Gazebo on the unceded Kanien’kehà:ka land of Tekanontak, or Mount Royal, and drew a crowd of roughly 50. 

Throughout the rally, several Mothers explained why they take issue with the cross on Tekanontak, which was originally erected in 1643 by British colonizers. Kahentinetha, a Mohawk Mother, added that the religious symbol serves as a reminder of the horrors that the Catholic Church has inflicted on Indigenous peoples.

“That place that it sits is one of the most important communication centres of our people,” Kahentinetha said.“Where the cross is was where we would send messages by smoke signal [….] We could send these to Mount Bruno, the Adirondack, and all the way through.”

Kwetiio, another Mohawk Mother, addressed the Pope’s visit, calling the Pope’s apology insufficient and a painful reminder of the mass suffering the Catholic Church inflicted on Indigenous people.  

“Nobody asked him to come here. I don’t want him back on my land [….] Every time that [he comes] it hurts our people more and more to think of the injustice of that entity that he represents,” Kwetiio said. “[His visit] gets more attention than the people that are here, trying to save our land and save our culture and save our people and our babies from repeated abuse.”

Kwetiio believes that for an apology to be genuine, the Pope would need to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, which has been used to justify colonization and forced religious indoctrination since the 15th century.

“The [doctrine] needs to be rescinded and he needs to write a new plight for the people that follow him and let it be known that this land, it belongs to the Onkwehonwe children,” Kwetiio said.

The Kanien’kehà:ka Kahnistensera also provided an update on their ongoing legal battle with McGill. The Mothers are demanding a halt to construction on the New Vic Project until an Indigenous-led investigation has been conducted into concerns that there may be Indigenous children buried nearby, from the time of Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron’s brutal experiments. Kahentinetha explained that the Mothers have refused to hire a lawyer, instead representing themselves because they do not believe in the Canadian legal model. Regardless, McGill announced at a July 26 hearing that construction will go ahead in October. 

“We need help [getting answers] and we need it soon, because they want to start digging up McGill in October and they don’t have our permission. The land belongs to us, the school was built with our money, and they never asked our permission for anything,” Kahentinetha said. “I think that they are going to try to hide the evidence so that we can’t do these investigations.”

CCMP organizers delivered a statement at the rally, declaring their unwavering support for the Kanien’kehà:ka Kahnistensera, criticizing the Catholic Church and the Pope’s visit, and condemning McGill’s decision to renovate the old Royal Victoria Hospital despite community disapproval. 

“We’d also like to emphasize that this campus expansion serves no other purpose than to cover up McGill’s heinous role in the MK Ultra experiments, their ongoing contributions to the fossil fuel industry and invasions of Indigenous territory,” CCMP organizers said.

In a statement to The McGill Tribune, McGill media relations officer Frédérique Mazerolle affirmed that the university is dedicated to having a collaborative relationship with Indigenous communities. Echoing past remarks, Mazerolle stated that the university will investigate claims of unmarked graves in partnership with Indigenous communities but did not provide specifics.

“We are committed to collaborating with governments, the Société québécoise des infrastructures (SQI)—responsible for the requalification of the former Royal Victoria Hospital—and Indigenous community leadership to undertake the work necessary to investigate this concern,” Mazerolle wrote by email.

The day after the rally, Mohawk Nation News, run by Kahentinetha, announced that the Mohawk Mothers’ next court hearing with McGill is set for Oct. 26, 2022.
Those in need of support can reach out to the Montreal Indigenous Community Network by email at [email protected] or phone at 438-992-4589. A 24-hour helpline for residential school survivors and their families is available at 1-866-925-4419.

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