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Last Thursday (January 28), after the Journal de Montréal published an opinion piece entitled “Montreal was never a Mohawk territory” by former Parti Québécois member and sociologist Joseph Facal, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) sent out a scathing rebuke and classified the piece as misinformation.
In the article, Facal calls into question the historic presence of the Kanien’kehá:ka people on the Island of Montreal.
Further, he claims that no serious historian supports the idea of Mohawk presence on the Island of Montreal when the city was founded.
MCK said that Facal never contacted them, the Mohawk Nation or any Mohawk or Indigenous oral history experts to gain insight into Kanien’kehá:ka history in this region.
Moreover, nowhere in the article does Facal present sources of any kind to back up his claims.
“It nonetheless reeks of poor journalism and only succeeds in providing the readers of the newspaper with a false sense of history that is designed, simply, to once again discredit our people and our history,” reads the MCK statement.
THE EASTERN DOOR tried to contact Facal and the Journal de Montréal but, as of press time, had not heard back.
“If you look at the source, the guy who wrote the op-ed, he’s not even an archeologist,” said MCK chief Ross Montour.
“There are people that have an axe to grind every time some acknowledgement of Mohawk presence in the area is mentioned. A lot of this stuff I find is grievance-based,” he continued.
Gavin Taylor, who is a senior lecturer in the Department of History at Concordia University, explained that Facal’s claims are operating under a sovereignty model rooted in the Westphalian system, which essentially means that a territory’s sovereignty is based on the government that rules over it.
“What he is saying is that there was no Mohawk government that had jurisdiction over Montreal in 1642, and therefore it was unoccupied,” said Taylor. “Most historians I know would not accept such a limited understanding of what sovereignty is.”
Taylor also said that there is French documentation that describes Mohawks that were in Montreal and were using the land.
Montour called Facal’s claims “deeply rooted in ethnocentricity” and said that his words were pathetic and rude.
In the article, Facal also questions Kanien’kehá:ka people’s Iroquoians ancestry because they do not speak the same language.
Taylor explained that the Haudenosaunee and other First Nations did not define the boundaries of who they were by culture or by language. They did it by kinship.
“Placing such great stock in questions of language is completely missing the point,” said Taylor.
“And in fact, I would say that sovereignty viewed not from the Westphalian system, but from the point of view of the Haudenosaunee, is a question of kinship, so the right to use the land flows from that membership in that community,” he continued.
The MCK stated that the historic presence of the Mohawk Nation has been under constant attack in some Quebec circles led by the “Saint Lawrence Iroquois” theory.
“This version of history arose from non-Indigenous academic circles and is, in essence, a contemporary reversion of the terra nullius (no man’s land) doctrine that has been used to justify the appropriation of Indigenous lands by European powers,” reads the statement.