On September 11, the Royal Vic project agreement between McGill, the Société québécoise des infrastructures (SQI), and the Mohawk Mothers took a steep turn for the worse.
For those new to McGill or unaware of the situation, the site of the old Royal Victoria Hospital, located just above avenue des Pins, is currently contested between McGill and the Mohawk Mothers, or (kanien’kehá:ka kahnistensera), a group of Mohawk women from Kahnawake.
On one hand, McGill and the SQI want to use the land to build a new research and teaching facility for the university in a project known as the “New Vic.” On the other hand, the Mohawk Mothers have drawn attention to the high probability of unmarked Indigenous and non-Indigenous graves on the site from the MK-ULTRA mind control experiments conducted by McGill University and the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s.
In October 2022, a court decision forced McGill and the SQI to work with the Mothers to conduct a thorough and culturally-respectful investigation of the site for possible unmarked graves.
In the past few months, tensions have risen due to multiple disagreements over McGill’s handling of the project. The Mothers expressed that they constantly feel excluded from the process, which they said “can no longer by any means be considered ‘Indigenous-led.’” The final straw came when McGill and the SQI began to drill holes in the ground, prompting the Mothers to schedule an emergency court hearing to get an injunction on any further excavation. The hearing took place on September 14, but at the time of writing, no decision has been reached.
You wouldn’t know any of this from reading the email updates sent to our McGill inboxes by the university administration. Prior to the hearing, Provost Christopher Manfredi assured the McGill community that the archaeological investigation was complete, and that McGill’s actions were completely in line with the settlement agreement and the recommendations of an independent panel of archaeologists. Although Manfredi admitted that the university had begun drilling on the site, he claims that this work will continue being monitored. However, he said that the Mothers “communicated that they and their cultural monitors will not be present at the site as this new phase of work begins.”
Manfredi’s vague wording seems to imply that the Mothers simply chose not to be present to monitor the archaeological work, but the Mothers tell a different story. After the work began last week, they issued a statement strongly condemning McGill’s actions.
Additionally, at a press conference attended by the Daily, they further explained that they were not present on the site because they didn’t feel safe there. Neither the Mothers nor their cultural monitors were given proper safety training for supervising construction work. Additionally, they said that a security guard who had previously harassed the cultural monitors was spotted on-site despite the SQI promising to suspend her. This shows a clear disregard for the Mohawk Mothers’ wellbeing on the part of McGill and the SQI, and it’s particularly insidious that McGill is misleading the community by omitting this context.
During this press conference, Mohawk Mother Kwetiio explained that McGill has used “every chance available to take grey areas and manipulate them to their advantage.” For example, Manfredi claimed that “this stage of the work has not produced any evidence of human remains or unmarked graves.” Again, the Mohawk Mothers emphasized that this was not the case: in fact, there remained several uninvestigated anomalies.
The Daily has been following this story for over a year. It has been appalling to observe how McGill has prioritized its own interests over seeking justice for those who have been harmed by the institution. Instead of collaborating with the Mohawk Mothers to ensure that the site is properly searched and that all possible remains are treated in a culturally appropriate way, McGill’s actions show that they remain intent on pushing forward with construction no matter the cost.
For those of us who are settlers on this land, we have a responsibility to support Indigenous struggles against ongoing colonial repression. As McGill students, we have a duty to stand with the Mohawk Mothers and speak out against the colonial violence perpetrated by our university. As the Mothers continuously emphasized in their press conference, they’re doing this to unearth the truth of what happened to their children, and seek justice for the harms done to their community by McGill. No matter what McGill throws at them, they’re not going to give up, and neither should their allies.
The dissonance between McGill’s narrative and that of the Mothers’ is a clear indication of the selfish agenda driving McGill’s actions. It is a reminder of the importance of seeking out sources beyond McGill to understand what’s going on up the hill.
The Daily remains committed to accurately covering this story and continuing to uplift Indigenous-led activism. To stay updated, visit mohawkmothers.ca, the site run by the Mohawk Mothers, and Mohawk Nation News, where the Mothers frequently post updates about their work. There may be actions happening near campus in the coming weeks to express solidarity with the Mohawk Mothers, so look out for these and try to attend if you can. Follow @takebacktekanontak on Instagram to see when community actions are happening. If you’re able to donate, there is also a fundraiser to support the Mothers with any expenses they may incur trying to get justice for their children.