Editorial, Opinion

Say no to the colonial status quo

Content warning: Colonial violence

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a federal statutory holiday honouring those impacted by Canada’s residential school system, was held on Sept. 30. Despite the significance of this day, McGill did not give students the day off school, unlike many universities across Canada. Meanwhile, McGill is embroiled in a legal battle with the Kanien’kehà:ka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers) who are attempting to halt construction of the New Vic Project until a Kanien’kehà:ka (Mohawk)-led investigation into  potential unmarked graves on the site is conducted. McGill’s attempts at silencing an Indigenous group in court and disregarding this day of remembrance are glaring reminders that the fight for reconciliation at McGill still has a long way to go.

The Kahnistensera argue that there may be unmarked graves of Indigenous children on the New Vic site—children who were experimented upon by Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron during the 1950s and 60s. Halting construction to allow for a full Kanien’kehà:ka investigation—whose unceded territory the site is located on—is the bare minimum students should demand from the McGill administration. By weaponizing their legal team and wealth of resources against the Kahnistensera, who, not wanting to litigate within the colonial system, have chosen to represent themselves, McGill is fighting an unfair battle to push forward its $700-million-dollar project. McGill’s actions demonstrate that their alleged commitment to reconciliation only stands when their business interests are not threatened.

McGill’s New Vic Project intersects with other forms of colonialism that permeate throughout the university. Most notably, McGill is still named McGill: The institution refuses to sever ties with its namesake James McGill, a slaveholder of two Indigenous children and three people of African descent. Not only has the university kept his name, but is continuing to perpetuate his legacy by using the wealth he created from his colonial businesses, along with the money from the Iroquois Trust Fund—which was never repaid—to create a bureaucratic legal machine that is attempting to stifle and discredit the Kahnistensera. 

By denying a proper investigation of the Kahnistensera’s claims, the university is disrespecting Indigenous knowledge systems and wisdom—a common theme across the university. Indigenous lecturers are underrepresented at McGill, and courses about Indigenous topics are frequently taught by white professors. Paired with McGill’s predominantly white student population, this contributes to discourse on campus that treats colonialism as a problem to be studied retrospectively rather than as an ongoing issue that harms every aspect of Indigenous people’s lives.

The land acknowledgement copy-pasted on most McGill syllabi, for instance, treats Indigenous people and their oppression as bygone relics. As an educational institution, this is unacceptable.  By presenting a static and false narrative while simultaneously ignoring the continued  colonialism and land theft it perpetuates, McGill shows that it does not prioritize reconciliation beyond performative gestures. 

Despite the university’s unfettered colonialism, the annual Pow Wow and Indigenous Awareness Weeks represent steps in the right direction. They provide a much-needed space of joy for Indigenous students on campus and also an opportunity for non-Indigenous students to learn about Indigenous culture. The Indigenous community dedicates resources and preparation towards these events, and many undertake the heavy burden to educate the McGill community in place of the university, which has unequivocally failed to do so. All students have a responsibility to learn about the unceded land they inhabit and take advantage of the incredible educational opportunities put on by Indigenous community members. 

Of course, these events must be paired with tangible action by the university. McGill must give up their harmful litigation and immediately halt construction of the New Vic Project until a Kanien’kehà:ka-led investigation of the site has been conducted. McGill must also address the underrepresentation of Indigenous lecturers, and, crucially, students must enroll in Indigenous-taught courses. McGill should also make an Indigenous studies course mandatory for all students. Lastly, students should have the day off on Sept. 30 to learn about Indigenous culture through the numerous events held in Montreal—and to show Indigenous students respect on this day of remembrance. 

It is high time for the university to change the colonial status quo set by James McGill and for students to recognize that the battle for Truth and Reconciliation is actively taking place on a campus that is still named after a slaveholder. 

Indigenous courses taught by Indigenous Professors:

Interdisciplinary Seminar in Indigenous Studies (INDG 401) taught by Noelani Arista

First Peoples and Social Work (SWRK 445) taught by Cynthia Blackstock

Indigenous Studies of Anthropology (ANTH 338) taught by Leslie James Sabiston

Indigenous Peoples and the State (CMPL 500) taught by Kerry Sloan

Introduction to Indigenous Studies (INDG 200) taught by Yann Allard-Tremblay

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  1. Expressing solidarity with this editorial. I believe that colonialism in all forms must go, reparations must be paid and Indigenous people must have the return of their stolen lands and resources.

  2. Lana Mills-Sowchuk

    This is all about respect. There has been so many people who believe there are bodies. There have been signed affidavits’ from witnesses. Yes, most negative people say they are just rumors, but rumors always come from somewhere? Let us support the Mohawks to have a “dig.” Is this new fancy park a priority, or is it so they can destroy evidence? Let the truth be told. McGill has a reputation, in the world, but it also has a very dark history.
    I am asking EVERY McGill student to come and support the Mohawk challenge. This is a historical event and the history books need to be changed to tell the truth!

  3. Pingback: Abolish migrant prisons now - The McGill Tribune

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