Included in the mandate of the Office of the Independent Special Interlocutor (OSI), where I interned this summer, is making recommendations for a new federal legal framework to ensure the respectful and culturally appropriate treatment of unmarked graves of children at former Indian Residential Schools and associated institutions (including hospitals, correctional homes, reformatories, and psychiatric wards), and to support the recovery of missing children.
Although this may seem distant from our daily lives, we can understand the importance of this mandate if we look in our own backyard, at the ‘New Vic Project’. Approved by the Quebec government in May 2021, this project aims to renovate part of the Allan Memorial Institute, a former psychiatric hospital and research institute. There is evidence that Indigenous children were brought to Allan Memorial from Indian Residential Schools (IRSs) and buried on nearby grounds following unethical and non-consensual experimental treatments.
Construction for the project began in October 2022 without the consent of the Kanien’kehà:ka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers), who raised concerns about the unmarked graves. On October 27, 2022, the Quebec Superior Court granted the Mohawk Mothers an interlocutory injunction, effectively halting all archeological work on the New Vic project for four months. The court encouraged the defendants to adopt the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action 76, which requires parties involved with IRS cemeteries to have the affected Indigenous community, including Survivors and Knowledge Keepers, lead the development of the strategy, and to have Indigenous protocols be respected prior to the commencement of any invasive inspections and investigations.
The Mohawk Mothers have since publicly stated that the Indigenous-led investigation process agreed upon by the parties can no longer by any means be considered “Indigenous-led”, as the Société Québécoise des infrastructures (SQI) and McGill attempt to control the whole process, reducing the role of Indigenous people to performing ceremonies on the site.1 The Mohawk Mothers further say that, despite publicly stating their commitment to reconciliation, McGill and the SQI have unilaterally deemed the panel’s mandate terminated, without following through on several recommendations which they agreed to be bound by in the Settlement Agreement homologated in the Quebec Superior Court.2
Earlier this month, McGill University and the SQI began drilling a large number of holes marking the beginning of a series of excavations, in breach of the Settlement Agreement.3
As The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation approaches this year, we may be reflecting on how we directly and indirectly engage in settler colonial relations in our daily lives. As Tuck and Yang say in Decolonization is not a Metaphor, cultivating critical consciousness is important work. At McGill, it can be said that some of us spend time cultivating critical consciousness through our study of settler colonialism in Canada. However, until stolen land is relinquished, critical consciousness does not translate into action that disrupts settler colonialism.4 Disrupting settler colonialism, I think, involves truth-telling, and uncovering the truth that the land holds.
I end this blog with the following excerpt from the Independent Special Interlocutor, Kimberly Murray, taken from the OSI Interim Report, with the intention of drawing attention to the need for our collective mobilization in the face of continued colonial injustice, as we see on the site of the former Allan Memorial Institute:
I urge all Canadians to not be bystanders. Each of us must stand up and speak out. We must insist that these missing children, who were abused and neglected during their lives, now be treated with the respect and human dignity they deserve. We need to work together as we move forward. Let us honour and support all the Survivors, Indigenous families, and communities leading this Sacred work and keep the Spirits of the children foremost in our hearts and in our minds.5
[This blog post was written in September].
1 Mohawk Mothers, “Kahnistensera deeply concerned about McGill and SQI recent actions in the archaeological search at the New Vic site” (2023), online: <https://www.mohawkmothers.ca/recent-updates/5mrgjgp3uuxxrc62ns37lck7pswger>
3 Mohawk Mothers, “Mohawk Mothers Return to Court September 14 as SQI Drill Holes at Royal Victoria Hospital” (2023), online: <https://www.mohawkmothers.ca/recent-updates/mohawk-mothers-return-to-court-september-14-as-sqi-drill-holes-at-royal-victoria-hospital>
4 Eve Tuck & K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization is not a metaphor” (2012) 1:1 Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, online: <https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/des/article/view/18630/15554>
5 OSI, “Sacred Responsibility: Searching for the Missing Children and Unmarked Burials (Interim Report)” (2023), online: <https://osi-bis.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Interim-Report_ENG_WEB_July11.pdf>