Why is there a cross on Mount Royal? And why do the Mohawk Mothers no longer want them?
During a press conference given at the foot of Mount Royal on July 27, the Kanien’kehá:ka kahnistensera group, the Mohawk Mothers, rejected the pope’s apology while demanding recognition of the unceded lands. The cross enthroned at the top of the mountain has not escaped the demands of the group, which wants it to be removed.
The presence of the Catholic Church is impossible to avoid in these unceded territories that constitute Montreal, or Tio’tia:ke, criticized Kwetiio, one of the Mohawk Mothers, during this press conference.
I would like this cross removed. If you look all around you […] there is a cross everywhere, there is a symbol of this power that invades us. It’s cruel.
From Chomedey de Maisonneuve to the City of Montreal
The cross of Mount Royal “was erected by the Saint-Jean-Babtiste Society (SSJB) of Montreal in 1924”, explained to Métro the current president of the SSJB, Marie-Anne Alepin. The goal was to underline “the promise of Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve to plant a cross at the top of Mount Royal, if the fort of Ville-Marie, threatened by a flood, was spared”, she explains.
The cross of Mount Royal has become over time a cultural symbol of Montreal. It is a monumental manifestation of our history.
The president of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society of Montreal, Marie-Anne Alepin.
In the eyes of Kahentinetha Horn, a Mohawk Mother with whom Subway spoke on the phone, this cross instead represents “the desecration and genocide of our people. It is a symbol of oppression, that is why it is there”.
The fact that this symbol of the Catholic Church and the clergy is always present represents the persistent desire to “annihilate” the indigenous peoples, interprets Kahentinetha Horn. “Everyone knows how it affects us. It makes us feel helpless and no one has ever listened to us, never listened to how we feel. We are completely ignored,” she says.
This cross, up there, it keeps us in silence. The genocide can continue.
Kahentinetha Horn, a Mohawk mother
The Mohawk Mothers therefore demand that the cross be dismantled.
In 2008, a meeting was held at the top of Mount Royal during which reconciliation actions were discussed. “At the end of this meeting there, there were actions of reconciliation on the site of the cross of Mount Royal which were proposed”, explains Marie-Anne Alepin, of the SSJB. These recommendations were to plant a large white pine next to the cross and to create a center for Aboriginal culture in Quebec.
This meeting took place in the presence of the traditional Kanyen’kehà:ka (Mohawk) council, as well as an Anishinaabe representative from La Vérendrye Park. Also present was the recipient of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, Rigoberta Menchú. The SSJB claims to be in favor of these recommendations.
Today, the cross of Mount Royal is a property of the City of Montreal.
Who owns Mount Royal?
For Kahentinetha, when her people see this symbol of the Church “on one of the greatest places we had to communicate with all our people living on Turtle Island [l’Amérique du Nord]it is something very difficult”.
The question of which indigenous people Tio’tia:ke (Montreal) belongs to is not so simple, however, explains Eric Pouliot-Thisdale, a researcher in the department of history and demography at the University of Montreal. He has also been an archivist and researcher for band councils “in legal and historical matters” and is himself Mohawk and Innu.
“Between Lake Ontario, New York and [Montréal]it was like a kind of triangle delimiting the Mohawk territory. [Montréal] was like the northeastern tip of the area where the Mohawks set up occasional camps,” he says. The researcher qualifies the occupation of Montreal by the Mohawk, these camps “which lasted from ten to twenty years, which moved all the time so that the ground is not over-exploited” as “semi-sedentarism”.
Eric Pouliot-Thisdale confirms that Mount Royal was a meeting place “because obviously there were Algonquins in the north of the island, so there were obviously occasional encounters of Algonquins and Mohawks on the Island of Montreal”. However, when the time comes to know how relations and exchanges between peoples took place and who occupied the mountain, “it’s very speculative”, he insists.
“The indigenous presence on the island was therefore not particularly stable,” he concludes.
For the researcher, regardless of which nation Mount Royal belongs to, the cross should still be dismantled. “If we removed the cross from all institutions in the name of secularism, and all that stuff, well that would be the least we could do, really.” Like the Mohawk Mothers, he perceives this religious symbol “as an affront”.
It was a meeting place, but there, what comes first when you look at Mount Royal, is the cross. It’s a symbol of superiority, again.
Éric Pouliot-Thisdale, researcher in the history and demography department of the Université de Montréal.
At the time of this writing, Subway is awaiting a response from the Town regarding the requirements of the Mohawk Mothers.
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