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McGill Has Started Digging At Royal Vic Hospital As An Indigenous Group's Challenge Looms

Archaeological excavations have already started.

Staff Writer
The Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal.

The Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal.

The kanien'kehà:ka kahnistensera, or Mohawk Mothers, will be in court tomorrow to contest McGill's excavations in and construction plans for the site of the Royal Victoria Hospital. But McGill has already started digging, a move that the Mothers say violates an agreement the university made with both them and the court to pause any excavations until the next court date, October 26.

In a public press release, the Mohawk Mothers argue that the work violates the guidelines for archaeological work created by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which include requiring any work that seeks to locate missing Indigenous children must be led by Indigenous communities.

McGill claims their current excavation, led by Montreal archaeological firm Arkéos, focuses on an area in which they expect to find no unmarked graves, and that this archaeological work is being supervised by two trained Indigenous observers, according to posts on the university's Twitter. MTL Blog has asked McGill for further comment.

The school's observers are not representatives of the kanien'kehà:ka kahnistensera, who are taking McGill to court on October 26 in the hopes of being granted an interlocutory injunction which would stop further excavations to allow for the court case to proceed.

The Mothers eventually hope for Indigenous-led, independent investigators to search for the unmarked graves of children believed to be somewhere on the Hospital's grounds. Earlier in October, they filed a complaint with the Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA) on the grounds that McGill had violated the CAA's ethical guidelines, which include "work[ing] to co-develop protocols for archaeological projects or work."

The currently ongoing excavations were begun without the consent of the kanien'kehà:ka kahnistensera, as reported by The McGill Tribune. In their press release, the Mohawk Mothers argue that they have been requesting to collaborate with McGill and be consulted as the project unfolds, and that these requests have thus far been ignored.

In their article laying out the future of the hospital, McGill stated that Arkéos' work is "informed by the concerns of local Indigenous communities, notably those regarding the possibility of cultural artifacts and unmarked graves," despite the Mohawk Mothers' continued assertions that the university has dismissed the idea of non-invasively scanning the ground for potential grave sites.

It's unclear how Wednesday's court date will affect the archaeological excavations, if at all. Speaking to the Tribune, the kanien'kehà:ka kahnistensera expressed concern that their request for an injunction might not be granted, since the work has already begun.

    Willa Holt
    Staff Writer
    Willa Holt is a Staff Writer for MTL Blog focused on apartments for rent and is based in Montreal, Quebec.
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