Home News Special Interlocutor calls McGill dig ‘appalling’

Special Interlocutor calls McGill dig ‘appalling’

Mohawk Mother Kwetiio says she has not received a single report from McGill University concerning excavation at the former Royal Victoria Hospital site, despite the discovery of multiple notable items. Eve Cable The Eastern Door

The federally recognized point person on unmarked Indigenous burials has accused McGill University and the Societe quebecoise des infrastructures (SQI) of being “the worst offenders across the country” in terms of conducting appropriate searches of potential unmarked burial sites.

“I’m getting frustrated,” said Kimberly Murray, independent special interlocutor for missing children and unmarked graves and burial sites associated with Indian residential schools. “I’m very concerned about what’s going to happen on the site.”

The area, which is steps away from McGill University’s downtown campus, has been the site of ongoing legal disputes led by the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers). A court ruling earlier last month said construction can continue at the site, but the Mothers and Murray have both voiced grievances concerning communication with McGill and the Societe quebecoise des infrastructures (SQI). 

“No one has given me a report,” said Kwetiio, one of the Mothers, at a press conference on Monday. “There’s so much to say about the chain of events that have been happening that are misguided. They’ve been done all wrong. I’m angry.”

So far during the excavation process, a number of items of note have been found. These include two children’s shoes, a dress, and bones. In an emailed statement, McGill University said the items were stored safely in laboratories, that the bones are animal bones, and that this information had been communicated to the Mothers.

“The archeological firm also confirms it does not consider that any of the articles uncovered during the excavation constitute significant discoveries, or that they constitute evidence of human remains or graves,” McGill’s statement reads. 

“In the expert opinion of the bio-archeologist conducting the work, the few bones that have recently been uncovered are animal bones. That said, a full analysis will be conducted to confirm that finding. Moreover, the archeological firm has assured all parties, including the Mohawk Mothers, that all the items found, including the animal bones, are safely stored in their laboratories.  The forensic chain of custody has been fully preserved.”

Kwetiio told The Eastern Door that she refutes McGill’s claims.

“Saying that they’ve kept us fully informed is not correct at all. We have not received one report, not one archaeological report from anyone throughout this process,” Kwetiio said.

Murray agreed that McGill’s communication has been poor, adding that there have been multiple instances where McGill has ignored her emails.

“They treat me like I’m nobody. They’re just so disrespectful to my office. They have no respect for my mandate at all,” she said, adding that she had not been told about any of the items being safely stored in laboratories. “I mean, you have more information than they provided me.”

Murray said every step of the archaeological process has been a cause for concern.

“Everything they do is a misstep, and is not good for reconciliation, and is not Indigenous led,” Murray said. “I am going to write about them. I wrote about them in my interim report, and I will be writing about them in my final report, about how not to do things.”

Murray believes the university has been hypocritical. “They go out and say how they’re so committed to reconciliation with Indigenous people, and this is how they treat Indigenous people,” she said.

Murray exclusively shared with The Eastern Door email correspondence with McGill University, wherein she highlighted that the recovery of items has not been properly disclosed to the Mohawk Mothers.

“The lack of protocol in this situation aggravates mistrust and elevates anxieties for all. The lack of transparency is also problematic because it causes unnecessary harm that can be avoided simply by following and improving protocols,” Murray’s email to McGill reads in part. “I must speak up and be the voice for the missing children. I cannot sit back and watch any disregard for Indigenous community concerns, or disrespect for the Spirits and bodies of those that might be buried on these grounds.”

McGill did not respond to the majority of Murray’s email, instead replying with three sentences stating that they “take (their) responsibility to manage the execution of the archaeological techniques very seriously.” On Tuesday morning, an array of purple and orange ribbons that had long been tied to fences outside of the site had been removed, though it’s unclear if they were removed by McGill.

This article was originally published in print on Friday, October 6, in issue 32.40 of The Eastern Door.

Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.