With less than a month left before groundbreaking begins on a controversial hospital expansion project in Montreal, a group of Mohawk Mothers of Kahnawà:ke is taking the issue to court, hoping to force an injunction and a ground search for human remains.
The formal site of the Royal Victoria Hospital has been closed since 2015. In about a month’s time, work on a restoration and expansion project will begin. The interior work has already started.
The site of the former Allen Memorial Institute (AMI) is known to have been the setting of Dr. Ewan Cameron’s MK-Ultra mind-control experiments of the 1950s and ‘60s.
A group of Mohawk women and survivors of the MK-Ultra experiments are worried about evidence being destroyed.
“It has bothered us, and it continues to play on our mind,” said Kahentinetha, one of the Mohawk Mothers. “And so now – we believe in what you call action. That you have to do something, and we are doing something.”
The Mohawk Mothers, which include Kahnawà:ke residents Kwetiio and Kahantinetha, have not revealed much about their sources explicitly linking Kahnawà:ke residents or residential school attendees to the MK-Ultra experiments.
To see a complete list of documents submitted by the Mohawk Mothers in court click here: Allen Memorial Institute
They also have evidence that Kahnawà:ke children were involved in behavioural studies by AMI scientists around the same time as Cameron’s MK-Ultra tenure (1957-1964).
For over a year, a research team made up of academics from McGill has been assisting the Mohawk Mothers in assembling evidence to convince a judge there is a “strong possibility” of human remains buried beneath the pool constructed behind the old AMI.
“This is what we needed to communicate with this court. And we can’t let this construction, that’s going to completely desecrate not only the spiritual aspect of it, and the children or the people who are buried there, but also the forensic evidence that’s there,” said Kwetiio.
According to researcher Philippe Bloulin’s affidavit, “The institutionalization of Indigenous people in psychiatric wards and clinics was often used as a form of punishment, or an attack on traditional segments of Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States.”
The mothers do not list specific names, dates, or examples of Kanien’keha:ka participation in MK-Ultra experiments, however, they say their investigation is “complicated by the scarcity of archival evidence.”
To bolster their cause, they’ve included a signed affidavit from Lana Ponting, a survivor of the Montreal MK-Ultra experiments, now living in Winnipeg.
“I saw Indigenous children. I saw Dr. Cameron give them Kool-Aid, and the Kool-Aid was laced with LSD. It was horrible to watch these children fall down,” said Ponting in an affidavit and in an interview with APTN News. Cameron died in 1967.
In her affidavit, she cites that she witnessed people with shovels digging at night and that there were rumours circulating that bodies were being buried on the grounds.
Lawyer Alan Stein also confirmed back in the spring that there were Indigenous victims of the MK-ULTRA experiments at the hands of Dr. Cameron, but said that there was no direct evidence of bodies being buried on-site.
The Mohawk Mothers are not the only community group putting pressure on Montreal and the McGill University Health Centre to stop development until the ground has been searched.
In late August, the family members of Allen Memorial survivors and the two remaining living survivors — including Ponting — submitted a second written appeal to the mayor of Montreal saying it’s “horrific” to consider development on a potential burial site.
They feel McGill and the city both have “a moral and probably legal duty to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation of the hospital grounds,” according to the letter.
The survivors are asking for a meeting with the city.
The Mohawk Mothers, as the self-appointed custodians of unceded Mohawk territory, are asking for a total halt of the project, until their consent is given. Whether or not they will be able to get an injunction is further complicated by the lack of participation of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke (MCK) in the case.
According to the documents assembled for the courts, the Société québécoise des infrastructures (SQI) has contacted MCK.
MCK has not replied to APTN’s request for comment.
“We have a hearing before October, but McGill has already announced they’re going to go ahead anyway and start excavating, so we have to do this before that happens,” said Kahentinetha.
A McGill University spokesperson told APTN they can’t comment on matters before the courts but clarified in an email they “remain committed to collaborating with governments […] and Indigenous community leadership to undertake the work necessary to investigate this concern.”
Meanwhile, the Société québécoise des infrastructures (SQI), the infrastructure group responsible for the site’s development, said “steps are currently underway to identify the best approach to shed light on the allegations of unmarked graves in the area of the Allen Memorial Institute,” including possible archaeological excavations.
A judge is expected to rule on the injunction application before the end of October.
If anyone has any information about Indigenous people who have been subject to the MK-ULTRA experiments at the Allen Memorial Institute from 1958-1964, please contact Emelia Fournier ([email protected]) or Lindsay Richardson ([email protected]).