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In traditional Kanien'kéha:ka (Mohawk) society, the Kahnistensera (mothers) play a crucial role in political life, social governance, and land stewardship. The Kahnistensera Mohawk Mothers of Kahnawake are guided by this tradition, rooted in the Kaianerehkowa (the Great Peace), to seek justice for the people of Kahnawake and other Indigenous people whose lands, bodies, and cultures have been harmed by Canadian settler colonialism.
Land at the foot of Tekanonkak (Mount Royal, Montreal) is currently earmarked for the construction of McGill University's "New Vic" project on the site of the former Royal Victoria Hospital. However, McGill is on unceded Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) territory, and was built using funds borrowed from the Rotino’shonni:onwe (Iroquois) Trust Fund, which were never repaid. Furthermore, evidence suggests that the site contains remains of a pre-colonial Iroquois villages, as well as the unmarked graves of Indigenous children who were experimented on at the Allan Memorial Institute in the 1950s and 60s as part of the CIA-funded MK ULTRA project.
In response to this persistent injustice, the Kahnistensera are mobilizing within their own community and with settler allies to advocate for their rights and title. They are joined by a research committee investigating McGill’s history of medical experimentation and its expropriation of Indigenous funds. Finally, the Kahnistensera are taking McGill, the Société Québécoise des Infrastructures, the Attorney General of Canada and the City of Montreal to court for an injunction to stop the construction project and avoid the destruction of the gravesites. The hearing is scheduled for October 26th, 2022, but McGill University announced that they will proceed with excavation work in the vicinity of the alleged graves before the hearing. If nothing is done, the graves and forensic evidence could be destroyed, causing irreparable harm and profound disrespect to Indigenous communities and the spirits of the children buried at the site.
This struggle has already generated significant attention in Canada and garnered support from thousands of people. The Kahnistensera are now seeking support to help with legal, research, and administrative costs. They are self-represented in court, refusing to be represented by lawyers who abide to non-Indigenous laws.
Speaking the truth about the unmarked graves, treating the burial sites with respect and protecting forensic evidence of medical crimes are essential parts of the reconciliation process. Reconciliation is incomplete, however, without the repatriation of unceded lands. The Kahnistensera’s work is an important step toward restoring Kanien'kehá:ka title and addressing the ongoing legacy of colonialism in Canada. By empowering Kanien’kéha:ka women as decision-makers and stewards of the land, you can help build grassroots community capacity that is directly linked to Kanien'kehá:ka culture and that educates and mobilizes the wider public around the continuing strength of Kanien’kéha:ka ways.
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