EAGLES NEST/BRANTFORD – Restorations continue with the Mohawk Institute, a.k.a. Mush Hole, building as it transitions into a museum designed to preserve the evidence behind the residential school experiment which systematically robbed generations of Onkwehonwe children of their language, culture and sometimes even their families.
But there is another part of this story that several former residents of the infamous school have been working towards and have been seeking funding.
It is called the Mohawk Village Memorial Park project and has already received $150,000 last year and another $150,000 this year from the Six Nations Elected Council to begin phase one of the $2.5 million, multi-phased project. When complete it will run from Mohawk Street to behind the girls’ side of the Mush Hole grounds.
“We want to put in something more positive to help counter so many bad memories,” says Project Chair Roberta Hill. “We though, as survivors, we need something beautiful and peaceful.”
According to their mission statement, the board is to promote “the development and maintenance of the Mohawk Village Memorial Park, to honour the children who attended the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School”.
Phase 1 is to remove dead and dying trees and shrubs from around the grounds and the orchard and to strip and remove the top-soil from the area to be included in the footprint of the park. The front entrance to the main driveway to the school and the Woodland Cultural Museum is to be redesigned as well.
There have been legends throughout the years that remains of dead children were buried at the roots of these old apple trees. The removal of the top-soil could either confirm or put to rest these rumours. Although that is not the ambition of the group, it would be an inevitable result of the work.
“We know there may be some who may not understand why we are doing this,” admits the Hill sisters who say they will explain the project further should anyone have concerns.
Their hope is to offer a space for personal healing, or to prepare people’s spirits before they go through the Mush Hole school should they wish, or as a place for spiritual recovery upon leaving the Museum. Covered barbecue stations will also be part of the allure.
It is to be built on the girls’ side of the grounds after removing the apple orchard, which served as a constant frustration for hungry Mush Hole kids. They were forced to harvest the crop under close supervision to ensure none of the children “stole” one. If caught, there would be severe punishment doled out to the offender.
“Those are some of the memories Roberta and her sister Dawn Hill are trying to help erase by repurposing that space into a memorial park with beautiful quiet places for introspection, prayer or just a nice quiet place to read or to relax,” says Dawn.
The Mohawk Village Memorial Park is a federally registered not-for-profit organization under the covering of a volunteer Board of Directors chaired by Mush Hole survivor, Roberta Hill. Her sister Dawn Hill is secretary/treasurer, with board members Sherlene Bomberry, Beverly Albrecht and Shelly Clark. Most are Mush Hole survivors or multigenerational survivors.
The board sees the project as a fulfillment of one aspect of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee Recommendations.
“There are still a lot of people beginning to learn about the residential schools,” says Roberta Hill. “One article recommends commemoration, and that’s what this Park is all about. The Cultural Centre is restoring the building and preserving the building, but this is one way of drawing in people, and there is a lot of people who feel bad about what happened here. This is a good starting point, I think.”
The architectural firm of Cedar Springs submitted the design that most expressed the look, feel and mood of the space and received the contract to oversee the six-phase project.
Phase 2 includes the leveling of the grounds, asphalt walkways, 10 inch culverts, pavestone and concrete walkways, Bases for Six Nations monuments at some later date, and pavestone for the projected pavilion.
Phase 3 will be the installation of the pond and bonfire area, and Phase 4 will see the structures and footbridges built and the reforestation of the area, and other finishing touches.
In Phase 5 of the project the site amenities and playground structures are to be built, including a lookout and music performance area.
Phase 6 of the multi-year project is when the signage, sculptures, carvings, solar/wind lighting washrooms and a well will be installed.
To see more and to take a virtual tour of the finished project, go to www.mohawkvillagepark.com.