A small crowd of media and concerned Montrealers gathered near the Mordecai Richler gazebo yesterday afternoon to hear from two groups united by their experiences at the hands of the Catholic church. The press conference, organized by the Citizens' Committee of Milton Parc, was announced in response to the Pope's visit and apology, deemed insufficient by the Kanien'kehà:ka kahnistensera, or Mohawk Mothers — the first group to speak.
The Kanien'kehà:ka kahnistensera are currently contesting McGill University's planned project at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
The project, for which excavations are set to begin in October, will disturb ground that the Kanien'kehà:ka kahnistensera fear could hold yet undiscovered evidence of settler abuse of Indigenous children, as well as further evidence of the university's involvement in controversial human experiments, including MK Ultra.
A swarm of journalists listen to one of the Kanien'kehà:ka kahnistensera, centre left in a beige hat.Willa Holt | MTL Blog
One of the Mohawk Mothers, Kahentinentha, from Bear Clan, explained that the women need access to McGill's archives, which they say they have so far been unable to consult. She also expressed that the doctrine of discovery "must be revoked."
The doctrine supports the right of European Christians to claim and settle lands in North America in the name of furthering the religion. The Kanien'kehà:ka kahnistensera wholeheartedly refuse to accept this. "This is our land. We've been here since time immemorial," Kahentinentha said. "We have duties and responsibilities to this land."
The second group in attendance were men identifying themselves as Duplessis orphans — québécois children who were removed from their homes under the guise of mental health treatment, and who ultimately faced abuse, including harrowing sexual trauma, at the hands of Catholic nurses and priests. The Kanien'kehà:ka kahnistensera expressed solidarity with this struggle, especially one woman, named Kwetiio.
A crowd gathered to listen to Kwetiio (centre) speak.Willa Holt | MTL Blog
She explained that the cross on Mount Royal, a symbol of Christian power, is also a painful reminder of the abuses and suffering her people have faced and continue to face. Kwetiio described the pain of seeing such a symbol in the area calledMount Royal, specifically.
Known as tekanontak in Kanienʼkehá, the Mohawk language, this area is a site of gathering and communication important to the Kanienʼkehá:ka (the Mohawk people). To have such an important place topped with a reminder of abuse is deeply painful to the Kanien'kehà:ka kahnistensera, Kwetiio explained. "To us, it's a symbol of disaster," she said. "It's a symbol of torture. [...] It's not welcome on my land, and it never will be."
"It has to come down," she continued. "[The cross] must come down."
Kwetiio explained that she doesn't want these issues to "become white noise" to the public, nor does she want more questions about what settlers can do to help — settlers should already be thinking for themselves, she argued. "I want everyone to open their minds," she said, "and think of how to help."
Closing out the conference, a representative of the Milton Parc Citizens' Committee, Darcy Seekaskootch, made an emotional statement. "I believe that in order to lay [our babies] to rest, land back is a necessity," they said. "We need liberation from colonization."
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