Kevin has taught me a great deal more than I ever wanted to know about the widespread and hidden crimes against humanity that were perpetrated against innocent First Nation children over the past century in residential schools across Canada. These residential schools, identical in all regards to the infamous mission schools in the US, were managed with financial subsidization by the Canadian government, by three Christian church denominations in Canada, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the United Church of Canada.
What happened to Rev. Annett is the subject of an acclaimed documentary film as well as a feature film that is currently awaiting a marketing partner. The documentary film is titled “Unrepentant” (meaning that the three churches have not admitted their guilt, have covered-up the evidence of the crimes, have shielded the clergy and other leaders who were involved, and have not repented. Nor have the churches offered compensation or testified as to where the bodies of tens of thousands of disappeared children have been buried. Excavations of suspected sites of mass graves are proceeding as this column is being written.
The impoverished and grieving families of the disappeared and abused children have been denied justice repeatedly. They have been ignored, demeaned, bullied and stone-walled by the Crown and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). They have had their traditional lands stolen from them and sold by the churches to multinational timber companies, with none of the money coming to the tribes. Unable to afford the legal representation that the churches, seeking to protect their reputations at any cost, were able to obtain, they have repeatedly lost case after case in the courts. Being denied justice repeatedly, the families continue to sink lower and lower into despair, poverty, homelessness, joblessness, mental ill health and understandable use of mind-altering drugs and alcohol.
That is, until the courageous Rev. Kevin Annett took their side.
Annett was fresh out of seminary, with a wife and two children and eager to preach the gospel when he was assigned to a small parish in Port Alberti, in western Canada. Observing that there were no First Nation members in an area where there were many, he started asking why. The answers he received were initially unbelievable to him, but they were so disturbing that he felt compelled to reach the truth of the matter, even when the church urged him, then threatened him, to forget about the stories of the genocide he was hearing and ultimately knowing he was hearing the truth. What pastor Annett had stumbled onto, is the subject of his acclaimed documentary, ”Unrepentant”, and his website, www.hiddenfromhistory.org.
Kevin Annett is planning on being in the Duluth area on a speaking tour this early December 2011. Events are being planned for Duluth and the Fond du Lac Reservation. Below is a recent essay written by Rev. Annett, who, along with a multitude of First Nations’ victims of the mission and residential schools in North America, is seeking truth and justice and offering a path towards true reconciliation between the perpetrators and the victims of their violence.
Your Crime is not Diminished by Time, or Apology: Why Nothing has Changed for Victims of Church Torture – or for the Victimizers
Kevin D. Annett
“It’s worse now, because I’m supposed to be healed. They get away with everything and I’m still here on the corner”. -- Bingo, a homeless native survivor of Catholic Indian Residential schools, Vancouver, August 10, 2009
Here in Canada, I have an odd déjà vu feeling these days that I’m working again on the Intensive Ward of the UBC Psychiatric Hospital, except somehow the patients have taken over. It’s a feeling that’s reinforced whenever a smiling government or church official announces that the residential school era has “finally found closure” now that a few words have been uttered, and a bit of money thrown around. Somehow, these guys mistakenly believe that their liability and guilt has been diminished by their lawyers.
To stay sane, I stay close to people like Bingo and the many thousands of others who imagine they survived the electric shocks, the beatings, the sodomizing and starvation and tortures that were daily residential school life. It was official policy in Canada to destroy innocent children. Probably one hundred thousand children died at the hands of priests and nuns and other clergy, and their minions, many of whom still walk around free.
“Then I saw the priest take that little baby and throw him into the furnace. I heard a little cry and heard his body go pop in the flames. We weren’t ever supposed to tell.”
Irene Favel saw the burning alive of a newborn baby in the summer of 1944, not in Auschwitz, but in Lestock, Saskatchewan, at the Muscowequan Catholic Indian school. And she described it live on a national CBC television broadcast on July 3, 2008.
After the broadcast, no one protested, save a handful. No outraged editorials responded with passion or appeal. No church official was ever charged or brought to trial.
In May of this year, an aboriginal woman named Charlotte Stewart and her sister Beryl held a press conference in Vancouver where they described watching their sister Vicky, age nine, get murdered in Edmonton by a United Church of Canada residential school employee named Ann Knizky. “We want the United Church held responsible” said Charlotte to the two reporters who showed up. “We want this woman brought to trial and the church to admit what happened. Vicky needs a memorial site so she won’t be forgotten.”
The church said all the predictably correct words, in a letter to Charlotte a month later, written only after the Stewarts threatened church officials with a lawsuit. But no one is being held responsible, and the police are refusing to investigate.
On a national scale, this protection of perpetrators has been guaranteed by the Canadian government’s refusal to bring criminal charges against the churches for their killing of all those children. And the same guilty churches have even helped to choose the “Truth and Reconciliation” commissioners who will pretend to “investigate” the residential schools while promising that no names will be named or wrongdoing reported.
This kind of miscarriage of justice is called “healing and reconciliation” in Canada.
I won’t ask the obvious question anymore, which is how can church and state get away so easily with such a huge and monstrous crime. We know exactly how. The question is not even why might makes right, or how religion can sanctify murder, for history teaches us why.
Instead, what is suddenly confronting all of us, including the Pope and the Queen of England, is the realization that we cannot escape ourselves or our own history.
We try to evade ourselves, of course, all the time. Many Canadians now really believe that we have somehow made better what happened at our hands to Indians, as if money and words ever heal anything. For every lawyer-crafted “apology”, every bit of hush money doled out anonymously, is designed to do something more basic than protect blood-soaked institutions, and that is simply to continue our own self-deception.
You don’t have to stand next to a residential school survivor, or a United Church clergyman, for more than five minutes to know that nothing has changed - for any of us. The survivor is still as crushed as ever, and the clergyman is just as stupidly self-justifying. And little Vicky Stewart still lies, un-avenged and unremembered, in the cold earth.
And yet while nothing really has changed for us, the truth is finally out there, like a pesky virus in our body politic, threatening to germinate in our soul and change us. Jesus once compared the kingdom of heaven to a tiny mustard seed, a very strange but compelling metaphor, since such a seed transforms any garden into a mass of weeds that chokes out all other contenders. The truth is like that, which is why we fear it so.
Nothing has been resolved, or reconciled, or healed. The churches and governments that planned and carried out horrible crimes against children are still as liable and guilty as they ever were, regardless of “compensation” and court-ordered gag orders. Native people continue to die in droves, and their land keeps being stolen. And it is the simple job of anyone who knows and loves the truth to say and show this to the criminal parties, and dislocate them.
I watched with wondrous joy this summer when thousands of Irish men and women crowded the streets of Dublin with their outrage that the church could absolve itself, and be absolved, of its violence and murder against children. And I wait, and wait, for Canadians or Americans to demonstrate a similar clarity and courage.
And yet we can reverse our complicity, simply by understanding, and declaring, that the residential school crimes are not resolved, that the process of justice, cleansing and moral accounting has just begun, and that the churches and governments and persons responsible for genocide must and will be brought to public trial and sentencing.
We did so at Nuremberg, against other people. Can we do it now, against ourselves? And by doing so, find ourselves again?
Kevin Annett is a former minister with the United Church of Canada who was fired without cause in 1995 when he questioned the church over its killing of children in its Alberni Indian residential school. He is the author of two books and the co-producer of an award-winning documentary “Unrepentant”. He is the Secretary of The Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared, and lives and works with aboriginal and low-income people as a community educator and minister in Vancouver, Canada.
For more information contact Kevin at: hiddenfromhistory1@ gmail.com or through his website at www.hiddenfromhistory.org
[Courtesy Gary Kohls]
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