McGill encampment protesters take down controversial letter, but still have support in Kahnawà:ke

Posters like this one declaring support for the encampment were posted at the McGill encampment but they have since been taken down. (Verity Stevenson/CBC - image credit)
Posters like this one declaring support for the encampment were posted at the McGill encampment but they have since been taken down. (Verity Stevenson/CBC - image credit)

Protesters at a pro-Palestinian encampment at McGill University have taken down posters that said they had the permission of the Kanien'kehá:ka Traditional Longhouse to occupy the land.

A spokesperson for the protesters said Tuesday that the posters, which appeared around the encampment last week, were removed in recent days because of concerns about antisemitism.

Despite the protesters distancing themselves from the declaration, other Kanien'kehá:ka supporters have also called out the university for being hypocritical in declaring the encampment illegal — given that McGill acknowledges that the university is located on Indigenous land.

And they point to similarities between the history of colonization in Canada and what is happening to Palestinians today.

Controversial Facebook posts

The posters were signed by Stuart Myiow, a member of the Kanien'kehá:ka community of Kahnawà:ke south of Montreal, whose organization is separate from the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawà:ke and the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke.

CBC News has reviewed Facebook posts where Myiow compares the Jewish people to Nazis and espouses a wide range of conspiracy theories.

In an interview, Myiow denied he was antisemitic. He said he had Jewish friends and was against Zionism, not Jews.

Asked about specific details of Facebook posts in which he appears to question the existence of the Holocaust and compares Jews to Nazis, he said he was against all religions and said he does not deny the existence of the Holocaust.

In a statement, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke distanced itself from Myiow and said it would not take a stance on the encampment.

"There is no affiliation between the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke and the self-titled group 'The Traditional Council of Kahnawake' as represented by Stuart Myiow," the statement said.

"Recent statements made by this group do not reflect collective positions of the community of Kahnawà:ke."

Commitment to reconciliation questioned

Before the posters were taken down, protesters had pointed to Myiow's support declaration as legitimizing their presence on campus.

But even though that support has now been rejected, other Indigenous activists who back the encampment say that McGill's land acknowledgements and commitment to reconciliation ring hollow.

On its website, the university acknowledges that its downtown and Macdonald campuses are located on Kanien'kehá:ka land.

Brandon Montour, who is Kanien'kehá:ka from Kahnawà:ke and studied law at McGill, said he supports the encampment and disagrees with McGill's language describing it as illegal and on private property.

"We are seeing many Indigenous people support this and I think rightfully so," said Montour, who noted he represented only himself and not the the views of his entire community.

"We know first-hand what the loss of our land looks like, what state repression, what genocide looks like."

Kahentinetha, a member of the Kanien'kehá:ka Kahnistensera, a group also known as the Mohawk Mothers, who are currently in a legal battle with McGill over a search for possible human remains on university property, said Indigenous people are the caretakers of the land upon which McGill sits.

The Mohawk Mothers have backed the encampment and addressed the media at protesters' press conferences.

Kahentinetha said the university has no right to threaten to kick the protesters off the land.

"This is not McGill's land in the first place," she said. "They know it too. Everybody knows that."

McGill told CBC News in an emailed statement that it was "actively pursuing its commitments to reconciliation in alignment with the 52 Calls to Action set out in the 2017 Report of the Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Reconciliation."