The abuse and murder suffered by generations of Aboriginal children at residential school is the most horrific and blatant attempt to commit cultural genocide against Aboriginal peoples in Canada’s checkered history. It is a story everyone should be familiar with by now.
Those children did not only suffer sexual, physical and mental abuse under the guise of receiving an “education,” many never returned to their families. Some were allegedly murdered, or died of malnutrition and poor health care, or were surreptitiously put up for adoption to non-native families. In some cases they were left for dead after a failed escape attempt from the brutal and unwarranted misdoings of their “teachers” at the schools.
One huge question remains: How do Native people get over this terrible legacy of the Canadian government and the Christian churches? The answer might be never.
How can something so deliberately aimed at destroying a people’s culture and identity be forgotten or forgiven?
Even those of us who did not go to residential schools are feeling the effects. Preceding generations had to fight for their very survival, and with that fight they lost much of their compassion and ability to demonstrate love to their offspring. As a result we have many people walking around who are shells of what they could have been.
There are also the many forms of abuse passed down from generation to generation, helping to create alcoholic sons and drug-addicted daughters. Such behaviour is a direct result of the horrors experienced behind those residential school walls.
Reverend Kevin Annett is doing his part to raise awareness of the issue. He is currently on a cross-Canada tour to promote his two books and his documentary, entitled UNREPENTANT: Kevin Annett and Canada’s Genocide.
His film is moving and to the point. It tells the story of residential school abuse with first-hand accounts and documents and photographs to back it up.
Reverend Annett is looking for the bodies of an estimated 50,000 children who went missing after being forcibly deported to residential school.
Soon after he started preaching at St. Andrew’s United Church in Port Alberni, BC, in 1992, Reverend Annett learned about the atrocities suffered at the schools and began to raise questions with church officials. Strict warnings from the United Church hierarchy to keep quiet failed to silence him and he was soon defrocked.
But Annett vowed he would never stop fighting. He knew that the stories he heard had to be true. If not, why was the church constantly smearing his name and doing everything in its power to discredit him?
“The Church should not only be held accountable, but it should be learning from this stuff,” he said. “They think they can just put their heads in the sand and ignore it.”
The residential school settlement that will pay survivors roughly $28,000 in “common experience” payments is a morbid joke. Is the loss of a language worth that little? What about a persons’ life?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is no better. Survivors are told not to talk about their settlements and the commission overseeing the five-year “healing” period has no power to speak of.
Nor will the Commission examine the issue of the disappeared children. As Reverend Annett noted, “They won’t have the power to issue summons for documents or to make inquiries about prosecuting people who did these crimes.”
It is time to own up Canada. Where are our missing children? They need to be brought back home for a proper burial and the longer we wait, the longer the pain and bitterness lingers.
Rev. Annett is currently on a tour to “bring the government to task” over the missing bodies of children who attended these schools, which he estimates at over 50,000.
His tour started October 23 in Ottawa, where he was supposed to meet with government officials. They cancelled at the last minute.
Rev. Annett visited two universities in Montreal, Concordia and McGill, October 25 and 26 respectively. The film was screened and Rev. Annett answered questions about residential schools.
He is living off of his speaking tours and although he no longer has a church, he is still a reverend who preaches the word of God.
What needs to happen now, said Rev. Annett, is for Native groups to put pressure on the government and the churches to reveal where the bodies of these missing children are buried. He also said that international pressure from the U.N. would push the issue further into the mainstream.
“For seven years we have been gathering evidence that shows intentional genocide,” he contended. “We want to put international pressure on the church and the government. We want to get Indigenous groups in other countries to send observers once we are able to hold a public tribunal.”
Protests are also planned for different cities in the fall and the spring of next year.
Rev. Annett continued to fight even after being attacked by his church, being defrocked and losing his family.
“I had a feeling of not wanting them to win,” he explained. “I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong or unethical, so why should they treat me that way? I wanted to vindicate myself. I did it for my kids as well. I wanted to be able to tell them what happened. I wanted to hold my culture accountable for what we’d done.”
Rev. Annett has dedicated his life to finding a proper solution to the residential school genocide. He knows that survivors will never completely get over what happened to them and that their children and grandchildren also continue to pay for it. However, he is disgusted by the recent residential school settlement.
“I think it’s an insult,” Rev. Annett said. “The Catholic Church in the States has settled their cases of abuse with the abuse victims. In Los Angeles they handed out a million dollars per survivor. Here it’s $10,000. It’s like a Native person is worth one per cent of what a white person is worth. It’s not only racist, but it silences people with gag orders. It doesn’t allow second or third generations to sue. It doesn’t seem to be helping anybody but the churches and government to get out of liability.”
But not all survivors took the deal. Those who have opted out of the Assembly of First Nations-backed deal can launch their own lawsuits.
Rev. Annett acted as a consultant when the first lawsuits were launched in 1996 against the government and the church. He provided much of the paperwork and was able to get many to tell their eyewitness accounts.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission starts its five-year undertaking in January to look into some of the things that happened at the schools. But Rev. Annett sees it as a farce that is part of the coverup.
“It’s not going to look into disappeared children at all,” he said. “They won’t have the power to issue summonses for documents or to make inquiries about prosecuting people who did these crimes.
“To me it’s just another PR exercise. The more they do that the more credibility they lose. Once you take the lid off, you can’t bury it again. There are too many people coming forward telling their stories. I guess they are still protecting some people.”
Rev. Annett said that the truth has to come out eventually and with it, the location of the missing children’s remains.
“The big push now would be to get a genuine inquiry into what happened and to try to repatriate the remains of the children; to bring them home and give them a memorial site. That would be a big step forward.”
To view Reverend Annett’s film, UNREPENTANT: Kevin Annett and Canada’s Genocide, go to: http:/video.google. com/videoplay?