‘Not in good faith’: Mohawk Mothers about search for unmarked graves at former Montreal hospital site

"We need this to be Indigenous led," says Kwetiio, a member of the Mohawk Mothers, about the search for unmarked graves at a former Montreal hospital site resuming. Felisha Adam reports.

The search for unmarked graves at the former Royal Victoria Hospital site in Montreal has resumed following a temporary agreement between the Mohawk Mothers, McGill University and Quebec’s infrastructure society. But the Mohawk Mother’s say the settlement agreement established by Quebec’s Superior Court earlier this year is being manipulated and if it continues, they’ll pursue legal action to ensure that the search is Indigenous led.

“We’re here for a purpose. We want to find our children,” says Kahentinetha, a Member of the Mohawk Mothers, part of the Bear Clan.

“We need this to be Indigenous led. We need help to have that Indigenous led, and we’re not being helped. We’re being stopped, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to make this indigenous led fully,” says Kwetiio also part of the Mohawk Mothers.

Kwetiio, a Member of Mohawk Mothers, stands in front of the former Royal Victoria Hospital site. (Felisha Adam, CityNews Image)

The temporary agreement sees that there is Indigenous security onsite following an incident in July which saw cultural Monitors and Elders kicked off of the site, but even with Indigenous security, the Kahnistensera say they are being left out of the process, and recommendations by an expert panel chosen by all three parties ignored.

“It’s like an afterthought. We’re not being privy to any kind of moves that are being made when this is supposed to be an Indigenous-led investigation,” says Kwetiio.

Kahentinetha, Members of the Mohawk Mothers, and Indigenous security guards stands in front of the former Royal Victoria Hospital site. (Felisha Adam, CityNews Image)

Amid our interviews with the Mohawk Mothers at the site to see the progress being made, we were all told to leave by an employee of Quebec’s Infrastructure Society.

From outside the gates, they show us two of the total nine new anomalies found that could indicate human remains, something they would not of know if they were not present.

“We’re not being given all the information. So it’s very hard for us to figure out what’s going on and what to do because we don’t know what they’re doing, and they make sure that we don’t hear anything. They make sure, very sure of that,” says Kwetiio.

In a statement to CityNews McGill University says they fully respect the Settlement Agreement and are committed to comply with all requirements, that they are and will continue to work in collaboration with the SQI and the Mohawk Mothers, the SQI did not get back to CityNews in time for air. In a previous statement, they say:

“Everything is in place to ensure the safety of cultural monitors, allowing them to be present on the site during the execution of archaeological techniques and thus carry out the appropriate ceremonies. Moreover, the SQI respects the parameters for sharing information established in the settlement agreement with the Mohawk mothers, the report was sent to them before the newsletters were sent. The SQI will continue to maintain dialogue with all the parties involved.”

The Mohawk Mothers, though, say both the SQI and McGill are following the agreement reached earlier this year in bad faith, finding loopholes in the written agreement to purposely keep them out – the group is looking to pursue legal action if nothing changes.

“Because we didn’t stipulate that once the archaeologists have their findings and once the the the methods of other techniques were used, the results should have been turned over…it seems like they’re acting as if they’re, they owned the information afterwards,” says Kwetiio.

Adding that an intervention is needed to help the situation. “We need to have these little loopholes solved, so work can continue in a peaceful way with these archaeologists. That’s all we’re here for, and that’s what we’re being denied of.

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