The SSMU Executive publishes this letter to draw the McGill community’s attention to events omitted in McGill’s public updates about the ongoing New Vic Project. The Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera, known also as the Mohawk Mothers, say that McGill and the Société québécoise des infrastructures (SQI) have not honored the legal agreement that mandates certain forensic and cultural protocols at the site. McGill’s conduct raises intense concerns among the student population and local Indigenous community.
This letter builds on a previous publication from the SSMU Executive in October 2022 that shed light on McGill’s misconduct and community dissent against the New Vic Project ahead of a court hearing for the Mothers’ lawsuit against McGill. The Mohawk Mothers have been working since 2015 to halt work on this unceded Kanien’kehá:ka land and protect the artifacts and unmarked graves it contains. This letter will only address the events that have unfolded since the October 2022 SSMU letter. To learn more about the Mohawk Mothers, visit their site at mohawkmothers.ca.
In late October 2022, the Superior Court of Quebec issued a temporary injunction halting excavation on the site. In April 2023, a Settlement Agreement was signed between the Mohawk Mothers, the SQI, McGill University, and other defendants that mandated an “Indigenous-led” investigation of unmarked graves on the site. However, the Mohawk Mothers say this agreement has been “forcefully violat[ed]” by McGill and the SQI.
For one, McGill and the SQI have rejected the court-appointed archaeologist panel’s recommendation to hire a forensics expert to oversee the chain of custody of artifacts. Then, on July 25, Indigenous Elders and cultural monitors on site were harassed and insulted by security guards hired by the SQI. For weeks, Indigenous cultural monitors felt unsafe to return to their work at the site. A month later, McGill and the SQI finally honored the Mohawk Mothers’ request to hire a separate security firm of their choosing and all parties have since returned to the site. Though McGill Provost and Vice-Principal Christopher Manfredi denounces the aggression in his recent newsletters to the McGill community (published August 3 and August 23), his account washes over the weeks in which the Mothers’ demands for new security policies were unmet. McGill’s version of the story is neat and self-preserving, lacking any links to corroborating sources. Ultimately, this is a mischaracterization of the working relationship between the Mohawk Mothers, McGill, and the SQI.
The Mohawk Mothers also call attention to the discrepancy between the results of the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey conducted on site in July 2023 and the version that McGill and the SQI made public. The GPR report identifies nine potential grave sites within the area McGill plans to excavate. Furthermore, search dogs have detected the scent of human remains on site and archaeologists have excavated cloth and shoes that are decades old. However, in his August 3rd newsletter, McGill Provost Manfredi minimized the significance of these GPR findings by emphasizing that they were “potential” but not “likely” grave type features. We argue that the semantic difference here between “potential” and “likely” is esoteric and does not excuse McGill from further archeological investigation. The SQI newsletter published on the same day suggested that “to date, no burials have been found.” Both of these accounts omit critical pieces of evidence and were made public without consultation with the Mohawk Mothers.
Despite their public commitments to Indigenous reconciliation and justice, McGill and the SQI seem focused on profit-driven construction timelines without regard for the sovereignty or humanity of the Mohawk Mothers. The SSMU Executive calls for McGill to honour its Settlement Agreement with the Mohawk Mothers and to prioritize the agency and safety of Indigenous stakeholders. Furthermore, we expect that future newsletters to the McGill community are published in consultation with the Mohawk Mothers and corroborated by linked references to Mohawk news sources.
Independently of this recommendation, we encourage members of the McGill community to get their information about the project directly from the Mohawk Mothers and other Mohawk sources. McGill has demonstrated that it is not a reliable source of information. An omission of truth is a lie. For regular updates, McGill students, faculty, and staff can subscribe to the Mohawk Nation News newsletter. News can also be found on Instagram @takebacktekanontak and at the Mohawk Mothers’ website. The McGill community can demonstrate its support for the Mohawk Mothers by contributing to their ongoing fundraiser and petition. To access support like funding and printing for projects in support of the Mohawk Mothers or to get involved in existing solidarity organizing, contact the SSMU VP External at email@example.com.