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Dec 27, 22

News From Anowarà:ke: On the Struggles of Mohawk Mothers in Canada

A look at the history of the Mohawk Warrior Society and the Mohawk Mothers. Originally published on, lundimatin in French.

This article is the outcome of an encounter between Kahnisténhsera (Mohawk Mothers) and a voyager, a fellow supporter of the Mohawk struggles, close to lundimatin. The Mohawk people are an Iroquois nation located in “Turtle Island” (also referred to as “North America”), which has been fighting against French and British colonizers for centuries. The Mohawk people have had to fight many enemies, from Jacques Cartier, who stepped on their land in 1535, to the MK-Ultra program led by the CIA after WWII. Since the 1960s, the “Warrior Society” – an independent association of warriors – has been designed to defend their autonomy against colonial incursions and help develop their autonomous economic system. This article anticipates a book about the fights and struggles of the Mohawk Warrior society, which will come out with PM Press in January 2023. Enjoy your read!

Some Contextual Information

In 1535, the French first arrived with Jacques Cartier in what was later called Canada. They encountered a large town surrounded by cornfields on the island populated by the Rotinonhsonni (Iroquois), which they later called “Montréal.” The French colonizers who had settled on the island after the first expedition were decimated due to a scurvy epidemic and the harsh local winter.

Samuel de Champlain led a second expedition that reached the island in 1611. At that time, the town had been abandoned as is traditional in the semi-nomadic Iroquois way of life. Every 25 years, they would leave the land they had been occupying only to return another generation later so that the soil could have time to be restored and regain its nutrients. The French definitively settled there and ever since they have been occupying the land they stole. Iroquois people called the French “Kanatiens” – settlers, or, more precisely, “Those who embedded themselves in the soil,” and named Montreal Tionni’tio’tià:kon, “Where people parted ways.”

The Iroquois people never forgot such a usurpation. As the main social, political, and military power of the Northeast of the American continent, the five nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and  Seneca – from east to west) of the Iroquois Confederation have never ceased to challenge the French occupation. Great Britain mostly won its war against the French and conquered the entirety of Canada in 1759, thanks to the support of the Iroquois people. Iroquois people have survived despite the genocidal policies implemented during the 19th century, whose purpose was both the complete disappearance of native peoples and the theft of their lands.

Today, two Mohawk communities – the Kahnawake, located on the south bank of the Saint-Laurent river, and the Kanehsatake, located on the north bank – survive on the outskirts of Montreal. They live in a completely independent and autonomous fashion. In the 1960s, the communities created the “Warrior Society,” which is an autonomous organization for warriors. Its purpose is to preserve and defend their autonomy against colonial incursions and to develop an independent economic system based on tobacco, casinos, gas, and tax-free cannabis. In 1990, the Canadian government led one of the most important military campaigns in Canadian History against these communities. It happened in the city of Oka, near Montreal, and responded to the Mohawk resistance to the expansion project of a golf course whose ground would have annexed the ancestral Kanehsatake cemetery. The Canadian army intervened and besieged the Mohawk communities for 78 days. The Canadian government did not grant the Mohawk people any of their several requests. Nevertheless, the expansion project never took place.

The “Oka Crisis” forced the Canadian government to change its perspective vis à vis native peoples to prevent any new confrontations. For the last decade the government has promoted an official discourse of“reconciliation.” As far as the government’s actions, however, the the logic is still thoroughly colonial. A prime example is a current and ongoing war on the Wet’suwet’en [1] in British Columbia to force the construction of a pipeline that would largely destroy their lands. There is no word in Mohawk to apologize. One can only say enhskerihwakwatá:ko, which translates to “I will correct my mistake.” Instead of reconciliation, the Mohawk emphasize the need for restitution.

Recently, the discovery of anonymous graves around religious boarding schools has reactivated struggles and public debates surrounding the treatment of indigenous people. It is estimated that 150,000 native children were forced to join boarding schools between 1880 and 1990. Boarding school policies would forbid the use of native languages or the observance of cultural practices and traditions, instead teaching European languages and converting pupils to Christianity. At the same time, they were also places where children were subjected to the worst mistreatment for which the Catholic prelates are well known. In 2021, after a long struggle for native people to have the right to conduct excavations, an autonomous team of researchers discovered the remains of 215 native children surrounding the former school of Kamploops in British Columbia. A month later, 751 anonymous graves of children were found next to the school of the city of Marieval in Saskatchewan. Currently, searches are being conducted around other schools, and it is fair to say that similar graves may be found from one ocean to the other.

The Iroquois Kaianerekowa

The fact that the Canadian Government was built on the genocidal and infanticidal usurpation of lands that were never given up to anyone is not up for debate. The question of restitution requires an agreement as to what must be returned. As far as Iroquois people are concerned, it is quite fortunate that what needs to be restituted has never disappeared. The Kaianerekowa, their ancestral constitution, is still in effect as it was orally transmitted for a long time before being written down at the beginning of the 20th century. The Kaianerekowa refers to a pact made between the five Iroquois nations to regulate the power and responsibility dynamics between them – both within and outside the nations – following their clan organization, i.e., Bear, Wolf, and Turtle.

As stated by article 44 of the Kaianerekowa, Kahnisténhsera, Mohawk women and mothers, or, more literally, “the ones who give life,” are the sovereign guardians d’A’nowarà:ke, also known as Turtle Island. That is, the North American continent. They protect the land for future generations. In January 2022, we met three of these Mohawk mothers, and they told us about their past struggles and fights to come. The account of their history conveys a sense of bravery. Indeed, it has been 500 years since they started and never ceased to fight back against an invader who has made their extermination his project. The stories we were told shed light on the military brutality to which native people are subjected as they try to protect their lands, dignity, and way of life. At the heart of their struggles are core questions such as land ownership or the State’s desire to eradicate the First Nations to freely exploit their land’s resources.

The Mohawk Opposition

A prime example of Kahnisténhsera’s willingness to fight back can be found in their current struggle to unveil the truth of the MK-Ultra program. During the Cold War, in the 1950s and 1960s, the US suspected China and the USSR of having found more powerful brain-washing techniques that topped the efficiency of propaganda, advertising, and imprisonment altogether. The US likely started to be suspicious after seeing some of their GIs embrace communist ideas following their forced detention during the Korean War. Subsequently, the CIA developed the MK-Ultra program to challenge their enemies’ advancement in terms of brain-targeted manipulation techniques. The program’s headquarters were in Montreal, specifically inside McGill University’s Allan Memorial Institute. There, a prominent psychiatrist named Ewen Cameron developed top-notch experimental methods within the limits of the available knowledge at the time. One of these techniques aimed to use a combination of psychotropic drugs (including Hoffman’s entire LSD stock), sleep deprivation, and powerful electroshocks to ‘depattern’ a subject, that is, erase their memory. This was the first phase. The second phase was named ‘psychic driving;’ it aimed to reboot the subjects’ brains by putting them in a prolonged coma induced by barbituric drugs while, in the background, voice messages coming from tape recorders would be played on a loop. The experiment would oftentimes last months.

Obviously, the program was top-secret, and all the subjects had no idea they were the CIA’s guinea pigs. In 1974, the New York Times finally revealed the project’s existence. After years of denials and unexpected developments, in 1995, freshly elected Bill Clinton had little choice but to apologize publicly. To this day, it remains hard to know how many subjects went through the experiment because, on the one hand, the very goal of the program was to erase a subject’s memory. On the other hand, the CIA destroyed an important amount of archival evidence.

In 2021, Kahnisténhsera women interviewed Lana Ponting, an eighty-year-old survivor of the MK Ultra program. She was 16 when she was forced to undergo experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute. Lana Ponting is one of the rare survivors who got her memory back. She told them that she remembered seeing native children in the behavioral laboratory. They possibly were transferred there from residential schools where the state supposedly protected them. This testimony confirms the rumor that the dead bodies of the children who did not survive the program are buried in the Institute’s garden.

The interview leading to this article happened simultaneously with a renovation project that will turn the Allan Memorial Institute and the former Royal Victoria Hospital into McGill’s current campus. In this context, Kahnisténhra women decided to sue McGill. Iroquois people never gave these lands away, which is why they’re also suing the Québec and Canadian governments and the city of Montreal, which allowed the renovation without asking permission from native people. They demand that the Allan Memorial Institute be considered a crime scene and independent researchers operate archeological digs to confirm or infirm the connection between the Institute and the MK-Ultra experiments. Considering how the local authorities are keen to hide evidence of their crimes, insofar as Dr. Cameron’s interrogation techniques are still in use currently (Guantanamo) and because there are only a few people who survived the MK-Ultra experiments, it appears that the archeological digs are the very last opportunity to know what truly happened there.

The investigation file and the testimonies put together and filed to the court by Mohawk Mothers can be found here.

In response, the accused have stated in front of the media that they would be willing to work with “First Nation authorities” on the Allan Memorial Institute digs issue – attempting to avoid any dialogue with the Kahnistenhsera and instead deal with the Band Councils. During our interview, we asked the Kahnisténhsera about these “Band Councils” to understand what these institutions are that claim to represent Native people:

The State seeks to exterminate our people, and Band Councils are helping them do just that. Band Councils sold our people. Indian reservations are where the government that stole our lands forces us to live in camps for war prisoners managed by the army and Band Councils – composed of native people who decided to reject their traditions -. The Department of Indian Affairs depends on the army: every time we rise up, the army is sent to tame us because we are considered prisoners in the system they designed as if we were minors without any rights. That’s how they took everything we possessed and placed it under their jurisdiction. The Band Council is funded by the Government and works for them. The Council has never shared anything of the talks it had with the Government: everything remains confidential. Traditionally, we don’t vote: our system of government is by consensus between the clans. But Band Councils have been imposed on us through the use of a voting system similar to the outside society’s, in which, ultimately, only people who work for the Band Council vote in elections.

In the case they filed to the court, Kahnisténhsera women reasserted that they are the only ones that get a say in how they will manage their lands. They reaffirm that they are the sole protectors of their lands that have not been given away, and any intervention on the latter requires their consent. Therefore, any intervention in the lands where the Allan Memorial and Montreal are located requires their consent. They ask the Court to respect the current legislation on native grounds, but they do not recognize the Court’s authority. In fact, they usually only submit a case to colonial courts so that they force their citizens to abide by the law. However, they reassert the need for the Canadian state to deal with native people the same way they would deal with another nation, as this nation in question should be the only rightful owner of the land. “There is no evidence that Montreal and the rest of Canada were ever yielded to colonizers by the indigenous people. All the people involved in selling and buying these lands were and still are guilty of receiving and trading stolen properties,” they explain.

They ask the Court to restore and recognize their truth, i.e., to accept the fact that “the first peoples from a’nowarà:ke (Turtle island) and their legal systems are part of an ecological reality which allows life to everlastingly be created. These systems are linked to the ground, water, air, and sun, which are crucial to creating life. The Canadian law, modeled after the British common law and the French civil law, has no ground in the natural reality of a’nowarà:ke. Instead, it only contributed to the destruction of a’nowarà:ke by developing harmful projects for the environment that violated the kaianerekowa Constitution.”

“Originally, the Covent Chain and the wampum were the symbols that allowed the European colonizers to coexist on a’nowarà:ke. Colonizers agreed to keep their culture, language, and traditions aboard their ships, guaranteeing that the indidenous canoe would always remain sovereign on the anowarà:ke continent. Neither the wampum nor the kaianerekowa have ever allowed colonizers to settle on indigenous lands in any way, except for the fact they could dig shovel-size holes into the ground to grow the food they needed to survive. They were not allowed to build structures or extract our natural resources.”

As they concluded our interview, they said,

Today, we are embarking on the European boat to remind the colonizers what the original law of these lands is. The colonial court that navigates thanks to your sail has absolutely no jurisdiction over us, kanienkehaka:onwe people, who are sovereign on these lands. You have jurisdiction over your people, your own ship. We have never consented to any of your actions, and your governance has exceeded the limits of its jurisdiction to the point of breaking the law of the kaianerekowa. Your vessel is temporarily tied up to our shores per an agreement made of a silver chain. We are asking that your fellow colonizers respect us and obey their own laws* to put a stop to the genocide and crimes committed against us. We are not Canadian citizens. Our culture is rooted in nature. We will tell the truth and expect you to respect it.



[2] They’re referring to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that was ratified in 2007 after 20 years of negotiations, despite the opposition of the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The Declaration proclaims the right to receive reparations and self-determination for the 370 million indigenous people in the world. It is a non-binding resolution.

photo: Screenshoot from Warrior Society Roundtable

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