In recent years, more North American colleges have begun to perform land acknowledgements, which recognize the Indigenous people on whose unceded land their campuses were built centuries ago. But recent events show that talk is cheap.
A group of Mohawk women from the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation outside Montreal has taken legal action to prevent the expansion of two McGill University buildings on historically Mohawk land. This is also the site where the CIA’s MK-Ultra psychological experiments took place, in which unwilling test subjects were used in dystopian brainwashing and mind control experiments. The Mohawk group claims that the unmarked graves of children – victims of these experiments – lie beneath both the Royal Victoria Hospital and Allan Memorial Institute.
The Kanien’kehá:ka kahnistensera, or Mohawk Mothers, presented their case to the Quebec Superior Court on May 30. They’re demanding a thorough investigation of the sites to collect evidence of unmarked graves. We spoke with Mother, activist and Mohawk Nation News founder kahentinetha about McGill’s refusal to return stolen Iroquois funds and why Canada’s “whole system will fall” when the Mothers’ case is heard in court.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WHO ARE THE MOHAWK MOTHERS?
We are the progenitors of the land, and all decisions that are made about it have to go through the women. We work together with the men, but the women are the ones that select those at the higher levels of power, for example, the chiefs.
WHERE DO ALLEGATIONS OF UNMARKED GRAVES AROUND MCGILL ORIGINATE?
We have had many children taken from us, murdered and buried. This was based on the 1924 Indian Lands Act, which turned our resources over to the provinces and put us on reservations, which were actually death camps. They took our children and set up residential schools. Now we’re finding these children, and they’re everywhere in Canada, in unmarked graves. [Ed. Note: 1,800 confirmed or suspected unmarked graves have been identified to date, while a Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report estimates that 3,200 exist.]
We’ve done a lot of research. We went to the McGill library archive, and now we’ve seen with our own eyes the proof of what was done, and it’s boxes and boxes. There’s so much.
After World War II, McGill got a lot of money from the military, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Canadian government to do mind control and all kinds of gross experiments on our children.
But the main scientist working with the CIA and the Canadian military on MK-Ultra was Dr. Ewen Cameron, who led the Allan Memorial Institute [a psychiatric hospital and research institute that led the CIA’s MK-Ultra experiments from 1957 to 1964]. We also have some people who lived through it and are willing to come and testify at our trial about the Native children that were brought in there and were buried. They saw shovels and everything. I personally know of somebody who was taken there because he was “unruly.” They did a lobotomy on him and sent him back. And for 40 years, his family took care of him.
My two uncles and my aunt were sent to one of the residential schools near the Six Nations reserve, and they came back and told us about it. They said to my father, whatever you do, don’t ever go to that place. So that’s how I heard about it. We knew about it. Our grandparents knew about this. It was just that nobody ever believed us. But people talked about it, and now it’s coming out.
WHAT IS THE MOHAWK COUNCIL, AND HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE ITS ROLE IN THIS SITUATION?
[Ed. Note: In Canada, band councils are composed of and elected by Indigenous tribal members, and are responsible for administering education, community housing and other services. However, council election turnout is very low, and the band councils are accountable to the federal government.]
Well, they don’t get much support from the people because they work so much against us. We call them “paid killers” because they were right there from the beginning in 1924, when Canada set the reservations up.
The band council ran the reservations and helped the government to carry out the genocide. They helped select the children that were sent to these schools and were never seen again. The genocide’s purpose was to rid Canada of the Indigenous people, because all the land is Indigenous land, and there is no way to sell or transfer it because it belongs to the unborn children. So the only way they could get it would be to kill off all the children and sterilize the mothers, which they did.
I was young at the time, so I experienced quite a bit of it. The band council would point out who was considered to be unruly. They would suggest that they get tested, and then who knows what would happen to them after that. That’s how people disappeared. We didn’t see them again, and we couldn’t find out what happened to them.
WHAT DID YOUR PETITION TO MCGILL UNIVERSITY ASK FOR?
I started in 2015 by writing a letter to McGill in which I took a seizure of the university, reminding them that we continue to have jurisdiction over all Mohawk land. I informed them that it was built without my knowledge or consent, and that this land belongs to us.
McGill University was built in 1821 with money from the Iroquois trust fund, which had been seized by the Canadian government, because they had decided that we were “wards of the state.” They took the money and loaned it to James McGill, a slave owner, to create a military college. Then they borrowed more money from the same fund when they turned it into a university, which has never been returned. And we’ve asked for it back in this court case, because there’s more than enough evidence.
One of the things I asked McGill for was proof that any of this land was ever transferred from the Native people. On McGill’s own website, it says very clearly there that this is Kahnawake land since time immemorial and it has never been ceded. Everybody has to say that now, before they start any meeting.
I also asked McGill to discontinue its war labs, which fund military research. I said this violates the Haudenosaunee Great Peace. This is our university, it’s on our land and we will not allow that.
HOW HAVE THE MCGILL ADMINISTRATION AND THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT RESPONDED TO THESE CLAIMS?
I waited for a response and I didn’t get one. So I wrote back to them and I said, the time has come. When you don’t answer, that means you’re in default, you have admitted every allegation that I have made.
We went to the Federal Court of Canada and they were swamping us with protocols. We decided to drop out because they were going to do that to us for years to come. So we took it to the Superior Court of Quebec. They knew they were going to lose the case because their constitution says pretty plainly that all of the laws that have come here do not supersede Indigenous law. Anything that conflicts with that is of no force or effect. Canada has never allowed anybody to challenge it in court because that would prove it, and their whole system would fall.
We’re just doing what we know from our own way, by ourselves. We have no lawyers. The other party, well, they have their law. We have many, many lawyers working against us. They’re going to use hundreds of thousands of laws foreign to Turtle Island. Go ahead, use your law. See if any of it supersedes our way. None of it does. Their own constitution says that Indigenous law is still the law of the land. Read sections 52 and 35 yourself. But nobody’s challenged it up until now.
WHAT RESOURCES CAN PEOPLE ACCESS TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS?
What we want to do is we want to get all that information, all of the proof that we have, and put it on the court records and have it there for people to look at. We want the truth out there and we want it posted in their own system.