Montreal pledges to return Indigenous remains to Kahnawake

The City of Montreal will surrender thousands-year-old Indigenous human remains in its possession within a year as part of its commitment to reconciliation, mayor Valérie Plante announced Thursday.

Repatriation of remains one of three promises made by mayor Valérie Plante on National Indigenous Peoples Day

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante made three pledges toward reconciliation on National Indigenous Peoples Day on Thursday. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The City of Montreal will surrender Indigenous human remains thousands of years old in its possession as part of its commitment to reconciliation, mayor Valérie Plante announced Thursday.

Remains from six grave sites dating back 2000 to 4000 years will be returned to the Kanien'kehá:ka of Kahnawake within a year.

"They're doing the right thing here," said Joe Delaronde, press attaché for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK).

The decision follows requests from the MCK and their heritage portfolio chief Christine Zachary-Deom. Since she was elected to council in 2012, she made the repatriation of prehistoric artifacts and human remains her priority.

"I think there's more and more awareness of this type of occurrence," said Delaronde.

"The people in authority are now trying to do the right thing. And in this case it really, truly is the right thing to do and we applaud the mayor for this this announcement."

Remains found during excavations

One set of remains was unearthed during an archeological dig at the intersection of Peel and Sherbrooke streets. Two burials were discovered during excavations in Verdun in 2006 and in 2017 as a part of an archeological school with McGill University.

In 2007, three burials were found during work on Queen Mary Road.

The remains are currently housed at the Université de Montréal's anthropology lab and the Municipal Archeological Collections Reserve.

A mound exists in an old cemetery across from the Mohawk Council office where historic remains have been buried in the past. It will be the new home for the remains returned to the community.

The announcement was one of three promises Plante made to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day, including funding toward a culture and tourism centre and hosting a summit between Quebec mayors and First Nations band council chiefs on Aug. 30.

"It's nice to see that the current mayor is following up on the previous mayor's commitment," said Delaronde.

"It means the City of Montreal is serious in its desire to really look at reconciliation on an ongoing and hopefully long term basis. So, we're pretty pleased about this."

A hub for Indigenous arts and culture

Plante's support for DestiNATIONS: Carrefour International of Indigenous Arts and Cultures comes with a $6.2 million contribution from the city toward the $57 million construction tag. The multifunctional venue would act as a centre in Montreal for Indigenous art, culture and tourism.

"Montreal is a beautiful city that has been doing a lot of steps to recognize the Indigenous heritage on this land," said Odile Joannette, ambassador for DestiNATIONS.

The project has been in the works for a decade and emerged as a priority from the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network. While the desired location is in the Old Port, no specific spot has been confirmed yet.

"It will be a beautiful space of gathering here on this land," said Joannette.

"So it is now up to our friends at the Quebec and at the Canadian level to commit to what this will represent for our healing, for our reconciliation, for our co-creation of tomorrow together."

The city's commitment to the project is conditional on the contribution of the governments of Quebec and Canada.

Joannette and a handful of other DestiNATION supporters wore construction hats to a National Indigenous Peoples Day event in the Old Port on Thursday with the hope it would spark a fire under the province and federal government to make a funding announcement.