Editorial, Opinion

McGill must stand by the Mohawk Mothers

At the bottom of Mount-Royal lies the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH)––the site of an ongoing legal battle where McGill’s colonial past and the fight for truth and justice come to a head. On Sept. 12, McGill commenced drilling on the New Vic Project, aiming to “revitalize” the RVH in service of a new research facility, while purposefully neglecting the deeper implications of their project. According to the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers), the RVH site may contain human remains, specifically the remains of Indigenous children, from McGill’s violent involvement in the MK-Ultra experiments. The Mohawk Mothers appeared in the Superior Court of Quebec in April for a case management hearing regarding their settlement agreement with McGill, in which both parties agreed to search for potential unmarked Indigenous graves onsite. The settlement was the result of a years-long judicial struggle for justice that is nowhere near its end, as the Mothers will be returning to court on Oct. 27 to voice the multiple breaches McGill made to their settlement agreement. 

While McGill claims to “recognize and honour” Indigenous history, the university has repeatedly positioned itself against the Mohawk Mothers through settler colonial violence, using their power as an institution to ignore their demands. McGill has controlled the narrative around the legal battle, weaponized their privileged access to students and the McGill community by sending emails to students and staff that scarcely mention the discovery of human remains, and completely ignored both their multiple violations to the settlement agreement and the allegations of dishonesty made against them.

Time and time again, McGill has been unwilling to reconcile its atrocious history. The institution refuses to accept the crimes committed on unceded and stolen land, acknowledging bits and pieces on the surface, but never the whole truth. The New Vic project is striking proof of McGill’s greed and obsession with reputation over respect for the Haudenosaunee, Kanien’kehá:ka, and Anishinaabeg nations of this land.   

McGill’s refusal to acknowledge the blood on its hands, and active disinformation about the ongoing legal conflict with the Mohawk Mothers illustrates its bureaucratic approach to the matter. This procedure reveals the university’s willingness to further colonial pasts, as violent present and future. 

McGill’s denialism of the truth only adds to the atrocious acts perpetrated against the Mohawk Mothers. Overrun with semantics, the Frequently Asked Questions section of the New Vic site undermines the lawsuit’s severity and the ongoing findings at the RVH site. However, this is not the only place where the McGill administration has spread disinformation. In an announcement on Aug. 3, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi claimed that only nine anomalies containing “grave-type” features were located during their archaeological investigation. However, the Mohawk Mothers claim that several other anomalies with ‘unknown’ features went unreported. 

The university continues to divert students’ attention away from the case and toward the bare minimum they have done to support McGill’s Indigenous community. They must account for a 1.7 billion CAD debt to the Six Nations of the Grand River to respect their right to self-determination and the university must show humility in their future  relationships with Indigenous peoples. The Mohawk Mothers have been clear in their assertion that the continuation of drilling may lead to the destruction of evidence. Time is running out and the time for community action is now. 

The student body’s weak response to the case reflects how McGill’s misleading narratives produce ignorance and complicity in their case against the Mohawk Mothers. It cannot fall solely on the Indigenous members of the McGill community to fight against the administration. Student organizations must echo the demands of the Mohawk Mothers, flooding the courtrooms on Oct. 27 and working in solidarity to show support. Non-Indigenous members of the McGill community must resist McGill’s attempts to pacify resistance and rise up against a colonial administration that attempts to silence and erase Indigenous peoples. The New Vic project cannot continue, and it is the responsibility of the student body to prevent it. 

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  1. Hi! The Anthropology Student Association (ASA) is organizing a public Teach-In in support of the Mohawk Mothers on Wednesday, October 25th, 2023, in Leacock 232. There will be a discussion of the ongoing archaeological work at the New Vic and the role of the Mohawk Mothers in this process. This event is open to all McGill students, staff and community members. No need to RSVP, just show up, the more people, the better! Here is the event page: https://www.asamcgill.net/event-details-registration/solidarity-with-the-mohawk-mothers-teach-in

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