Please post & circulate
MNN. OCT. 11, 2022.
kanien’kehá:ka kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers) Kahnawake firstname.lastname@example.org October 9, 2022 OBJECT:
Re: Arkéos intervention and information meetings on the upcoming excavation in front of the Hersey pavilion of the Royal Victoria Hospital: we were informed that the SQI and McGill have declared that they would wait completing the “information meetings” before carrying out the archaeological intervention. Not so. Arkéos’s intervention can start immediately.
We are wholly opposed to the archaeological intervention in its current form, which dismisses all the guidelines and frameworks that have been developed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and by archaeologists engaged in searching for unmarked graves since the first findings in Tk’emlúps in 2021. Disturbing ancestral and recent Indigenous burial grounds is a very serious matter in our culture, and the area in front of the Hersey pavilion show a very high risk of containing both precolonial and modern graves of our relatives.
The first ethical rule mentioned by the Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA) for searching unmarked graves states that “Any work to locate missing Indigenous children must be led by Indigenous communities”. The upcoming intervention at the RVH is not led by Indigenous people, but rather by development promoters and a private firm they hired. We note that not a single one of the 10 rules determined by the CAA for ethically conducting professional archaeological work on unmarked graves is being respected.
We have repeatedly requested that remote sensing technologies be used before breaking the ground and disturbing the remains of our families. New Vic and Arkéos have acted as if we were in the 1960’s and those technologies did not exist (GPR, cadaver dogs, resistivity tests, conductivity tests, LIDAR, etc.). In order to respectfully treat the remains of our families, we must have an idea of what is underneath the ground before breaking it, so that we will follow our cultural burial practices and the will of the survivors and families.
A bioarchaeologist will not even be on site, only on call. Our request to monitor the work has not been respected either. As the opponents are failng to take our demands into consideration, we hereby announce that we will be taking the following steps to protect the site:
1) On Tuesday October 11th, if the intervention is not postponed, we will file an official grievance to the CAA to stop the professional misconduct of Arkéos inc. and its failure to comply with its national association’s ethical guidelines for searching unmarked graves;
2) When the work starts, we will report to police authorities an ongoing criminal desecration of human remains and destruction of forensic evidence on a crime scene;
3) We will monitor the work ourselves from the sidewalk using binoculars.
As reinstated by the CAA, “the TRC directed that the work of documenting, maintaining, protecting and commemorating residential school cemeteries should be led by the affected communities and families, with guidance from residential school survivors and other Knowledge Keepers, and must respect Indigenous protocols. This work must be undertaken with the utmost care and appropriate mental health supports because of the huge potential to re-traumatize Indigenous communities.” At this stage, we have already been re-traumatized by the way that our legitimate concerns have been completely ignored by the promoters of the New Vic.
Regarding the information meetings, our duty is to inform all parties that these meetings are not consultation. We invite the SQI, as a public institution, to read the Guidelines for Federal Officials to Fulfill the Duty to Consult, which was apparently not consulted as none of its guidelines are followed. As for us, we were not available on the date that the promoters had unilaterally selected for an information meeting with us, on October 6th. We proposed a range of alternative dates, any time between October 10th and October 14th to meet at the 207 Longhouse. The promoters did not respond to our suggested dates. Instead, they told us that we could come on the next day, October 5th at 7:30pm, to the Golden Agers club, after completing the meeting between them and Band Council affiliates, as well as other meetings that day, including cigarette taxation and an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting, that was canceled because of the McGill information meeting. The natural low of the community was totally disrupted.
McGill and the SQI claimed that we declined their invitation, which is not true. That date did not work for most of us. However, two Mohawk Mothers went to the Golden Agers Club in Kahnawake at 6pm to see the information session with Band Councillors. Neither us nor anyone we know was notified by anybody that this meeting was taking place, though we are Longhouse people. We saw in the invitation shared with the court that elders were supposed to be welcome.
The two Mohawk Mothers who went are 77 and 82 years old. They found no more than five Indigenous people inside, most of whom were currently or recently under contract with McGill or Canada, and about 15 non-Indigenous people representing McGill, Arkéos and the SQI. Such situations where Mohawks are outnumbered by White people are extremely rare and sensitive in Kahnawake, as in such cases our “At the Edge of the Woods” ceremony must be followed to access our territory without trespassing.
During the presentation the unmarked graves of our people were not mentioned. All the zones that Arkéos checked in 2016 did not indicate were declared to contain no archaeological interest, regardless of the widely acknowledged fact that this section of tekanontak (Mount Royal) is the exact location of the highly populated villages of our ancestors. This silencing of our history retraumatized us. So we asked direct questions such as “Where are the bodies of our children?” The organizers reacted by calling the police to escort us out of the building.
The Kahnawake Peacekeepers were surprised to see that they had been called in to remove two of their elders who are still shocked. We are waiting for the Peacekeepers to give us the report to understand what happened. We would appreciate if the other parties could use dialogue instead of armed force to deal with differences. Even though we continue to uphold our role as caretakers of the land and the children, we are still humans, and we are still fragile as survivors and elders.
O:nen Kanien’kehá:ka kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers), Kahnawake