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Ancestors come back to territory

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On October 2, the ancestral remains of two children and two adults discovered at the St. Joseph Oratory were repatriated back to Kahnawake.

They were buried at the old cemetery across from the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake’s (MCK) main building.

“The ancestral remains were discovered in 2019, and after much discussion, the agreement was finally reached to have the remains excavated and repatriated to Kahnawake for reburial,” said Trina C. Diabo, an MCK technician who worked on the file.

According to Diabo, archaeological digs in Montreal and the surrounding areas require permits from the province, and those requests are sent to the MCK for review.

“At that point, we have an opportunity to insist that our archaeology technician be part of the team or request updates, all dependant on the dig,” she said.

Non-invasive tests were performed by the bioarchaeologist to make determinations such as sex and age, according to Diabo.

Katsitsahente Cross-Delisle, an archaeological consultant and part of the MCK’s Archaeology Unit, said the team knew it was ancestral remains because of the location of the remains as well as the location within the stratum of the ground.

The testing is done on the site while the remains are being excavated, according to Cross-Delisle.

She explained that removing the soil helps determine the position of the burial. Different positions relay different information to archaeologist.

“This burial, they were mostly in the fetal position, and that is a way of telling that it was an Indigenous ancestor,” said Cross-Delisle.

Diabo said that the archaeological team met with representatives of the St. Joseph Oratory and Ministry of Culture several times in order to negotiate the repatriation.

The remains were excavated in July.

“On the site we had a professor come in and x-ray the bones. We were able to identify that one of the individuals had early stages of arthritis because of the wear on the bones from the muscles,” said Cross-Delisle.

The team believes that the remains were buried with some type of jewelry, which is a firsttime discovery for burials found in the Montreal area.

“One of them had shells on it that went over the stomach area, so it could be maybe a belt,” she said. Further, they found one of the children with shells around their wrist, which could of been a bracelet.

On the day the remains were repatriated, Cross-Delisle, along with the rest of the archeology team, went to Montreal, where words were said to the ancestors to explain to them what was happening, said Diabo.

“Then (they went) to the Longhouse and lastly, were placed in the ground. It was a quiet event, and only these individuals were part of it and few people that stopped by,” said Diabo.

MCK said a traditional ceremony took place to honour the ancestors, and their remains were interred beneath a spruce tree.

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