A group of women called the Mohawk Mothers are taking McGill University and the Canadian government to court in an effort to halt the expansion of the Royal Victoria hospital until the grounds have been investigated.
“As the caretakess of the quenondah (two mountains beside each other/Mount Royal), we thus demand the immediate suspension of all reconstruction plans for the Royal Victora Hospital and Allan Memorial Institute sites on the campus of McGill University…” the statement of claim says in part.
The Mohawk Mothers want the site investigated for unmarked graves associated with LSD experiments carried out in Montreal.
The claim says the mothers are “aware of allegations that Indigenous and/or non-Indigenous children may be buried in the vicinity of the Henry Lewis Morgan pool, and in adjacent grounds of the Ravensrag gardens of the Allan Memorial Institute.”
From 1957 to 1964 the Allen Memorial Institute was the site of Dr Ewen Cameron’s psychological experiments, which were part of the CIA’s MK-Ultra operation.
Cameron injected his subjects with high doses of LSD and barbiturates with the goal of “deprogramming” them.
According to the four mothers, people in Kanien’kehá:ka have said that the residential school system and social services possibly provided Indigenous children for Cameron’s experiments and that there are possibly unmarked graves on the site from people who died during these experiments.
“We need to have them be held accountable to stop this construction project from happening, the New Vic project, because we need to see out on this unceded territory that is Kanien’kehá:ka territory, it needs to be looked into,” said Kwetiio, one of the Mohawk Mothers.
While they did not disclose most of their sources, they provide a testimony from Lana Ponting, a woman who was experimented on at the Allen Memorial when she was 16 years old. Ponting said she witnessed Indigenous minors who were experimented on, and said there were rumours of burials happening on the grounds.
APTN News spoke with three of the four Mohawk Mothers who are part of the Bear Clan who pursuing legal action.
The plaintiffs also include two members of the Men’s Fire.
They submitted a claim to the Superior Court of Quebec against the Société québécoise des infrastructures, McGill University, the Royal Victoria Hospital, Stantec Inc and the Attorney General of Canada.
It will be heard on May 30.
The Mohawk Mothers say they are the traditional representatives of Kanien’kehá:ka.
“The Mohawk Mothers are the caretakers of the land, all of the land… This part of Turtle Island is our responsibility, fully, that’s what I feel,” said Karennatha.
“Really, it’s in our DNA to take care of this, and to take care of the future DNA that’s coming,” said Kwetiio.
McGill did not confirm if there will be an investigation on the grounds but said they were open to “engaging” with Indigenous communities.
The Mohawk Mothers had previously submitted a claim to the federal court looking to represent themselves without a lawyer and as a group.
“That’s what they don’t understand about us, they said they only want one person to speak in the court, that was what we were fighting, we said ‘no, that’s not the way we do things, we have to do it the way of the clan. We have to take it to the people and then they decide what can be said at the court,’” said Kahentinetha.
They decided to submit a claim to the Superior Court of Quebec, which didn’t have the requirement. They’re working with academics and community members to assemble their evidence, some of their allegations lack concrete proof.
Lawyer Alan Stein has represented victims of Cameron and their families since the 1960s.
“I inherited these files from my father when I joined the firm after 1963,” said Stein. “In our cases, all the former patients and families of Dr Cameron were used as guinea pigs, and that was funded by the Canadian government,” said Stein.
He is currently representing the victims’ families in a court case underway at the Superior Court against the federal government and McGill, among others.
He says the mothers may have a case.
“Yes, yes, and some of our, even some of our families are indigenous, are native families, whom we’re representing,” said Stein.
He could not confirm that Indigenous orphans were part of the experiments nor the presence of clandestine burials on the grounds.
“Now I might not be representing their families, but we have information that some of the Indigenous or Native patients of Dr Cameron were minors under the age of 21. We’ve even been told that some of them were orphans, but I’m not so sure about that,” said Stein.
“Whether or not they were buried on the grounds of the Allen Memorial Hospital or the Royal Victoria Hospital, we have no proof of.”
The Mohawk Mothers say this court case is part of their broader mission to hold the Canadian government accountable.
“Sorry doesn’t bring our children back. Sorry doesn’t change what has been done. So we need to hold them accountable, and so they don’t get in the way of finding our children. So this is just a start,” said Kwetiio.
The Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke is not involved in the Mohawk Mothers’ court case and didn’t provide a comment.