Mohawk mother speaks on judge order to stop excavation work at Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute

"This is one of the times we actually got some justice," said Kahentinetha of the ‘Mohawk Mothers,’ who were successful in getting a Quebec judge to stop excavation work where they believe have unmarked graves. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

A group of elders from Kahnawake – south of Montreal- known as the Mohawk mothers, were successful in getting a Quebec judge to stop excavation work at an expansion project at Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute and the old Royal Victoria hospital.

The group has alleged that the bodies of Indigenous patients of the institute from the 1950s and 60s are buried at the site scheduled to be redeveloped.

BACKGROUND: Quebec judge says McGill work halted to avoid ‘irreparable harm’ to Mohawk plaintiffs

“We still suffer over what happened to them, to our children. So it’s overwhelming. And I don’t even know if I can say I’m happy because it makes me sad to know what happened to them and the Inuit children that were brought here from all over and experimented on,” explained Kahentinetha of the Mohawk Mothers, part of the Bear clan.

Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute (Photo Credit: Alyssia Rubbertucci, CityNews)

The Mohawk Mothers represented themselves in court, after filing the request for the injunction in March. It was granted October 27.

During the two-day hearings, lawyers representing McGill and the société québécoise des infrastructures, argued that there was no evidence of unmarked graves on the site.

But Superior Court Justice Gregory Moore ruled allowing the planned work to go ahead without taking time to develop a proper archeological plan would cause irreparable harm to the Mohawk plaintiffs.

READ MORE: Mohawk Mothers suspect unmarked graves at Royal Vic site, demand suspension of McGill construction project

“The adversaries understand who we are and what we are, that we’re not after money,” Kahentinetha told CityNews. “No, we’re after justice. And sometimes this is one of the times we actually got some justice.

“It’s always an uphill battle for us. And now here we are in the driver’s seat.”

Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute (Photo Credit: Alyssia Rubbertucci, CityNews)

The société québécoise des infrastructures told CityNews in a statement, “The SQI reiterates that as part of its mission to support public bodies in the management of their infrastructure projects and since the beginning of the project to requalify the site of the former Royal Victoria Hospital, it has been engaged in a process of exchange with the First Nations and it intends to continue on this path.”

The judge said the identification of unmarked Indigenous graves is a priority for discovering the truth and working toward reconciliation. Pointing to possible parallels between health services and residential schools.

“Everybody has a duty to protect biodiversity,” said Kahentinetha. “And we were all doing it, trying to do it. But now we have an order that says that we’re all going to do it.”

McGill University said Tuesday it will begin discussions with the group on the next steps.

“This will probably help a lot of people, not just here, but maybe all over the world to find peace,” said Kahentinetha. “Because so many of our people or other people are going through the same thing where the corporations come first and the developers come first and we are, you know, an afterthought. And then so many of us are living in such terrible conditions. And so now that has to stop.”

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