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13.30  Behind the Wall: Fort St. Louis and the Colonial Legacy at Kahnawake Kanienke’ha:ka Territory

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Rarely do we see a piece of monumental architecture standing in such a state of invisibility in the community to which it belongs. Such is the case with the Fort Saint Louis, a stone and mortar wall originally erected in what is now the Kahnawake Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) reserve, located barely eight kilometres southeast of the Island of Montréal. The wall, once part of the defensive architecture of a stronghold of the French economy within Native North America, now lies in a state of limbo: overlooked, ignored and unknown. The wall has stood for nearly three centuries, and has witnessed the lives of residents and changes which happened over the years in the village. 

In this paper, I will explore the spatial relationships between past and present, using a post-colonial viewpoint to analyze the site as a symbol and reminder of the past and ask what this ruin means to the community of nearly 8,000 Kanien’kehá:ka residents today. Through research in photographic archives such as the Notman archives as well as those in the collection of the Canadian Museum of History, I will reconstruct a fragmentary yet revealing history of the partial wall that remains. I will look at how photographic representations of the wall and the community demonstrated the continual need to document and control Indigenous populations by colonial and government powers, while also illustrating the resilience of the people of Kahnawake.

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