For many years, Reverend Kevin Annett has been searching for answers in the vast coverup over what really happened in Canada’s residential school system. The biggest mystery concerns the final resting places of the children who were sent to residential school, but never returned.
In 1992, when he arrived at St. Andrew’s United Church in Port Alberni, Rev. Annett believed he was only taking over another small church in a BC logging town. He soon found that the church itself may have been small, but the strings were being pulled by a much larger organization that had many secrets to hide.
Where, he wondered, were all the Native people? Why were there none at his church? He was told on at least a couple of occasions to leave that question alone. He started to get suspicious.
When he started to speak to the local Native people he realized that there was a good reason they were shunned; they knew all of the United Church’s dirty secrets.
They told Rev. Annett the stories of abuse and humiliation at the hands of their caretakers, the nuns and priests. Some of them allegedly witnessed murders.
Rev. Annett did not want to believe the stories at first, but he soon found himself in a dilemma of conscience. He could no longer ignore the reality and he needed to do something about it. His choice would mean a painful split with his church hierarchy.
“I was outraged at what I was hearing and that this would happen to innocent kids,” he told the Nation after a speaking engagement at Concordia University October 25. “I couldn’t believe the church could do it and get away with it. It’s one thing to hear an atrocity thousands of miles away, but when it’s done in your own backyard by your church, you can’t ignore it. It’s shocking at first, but then you realize you have to do something about it.”
Rev. Annett wanted to awaken mainstream Canada with his knowledge of what happened in residential schools, and put a human face to the tragedy.
“Up until now there has been a lot of talk about money and compensation, but most people don’t really know the human side of what happened,” he explained. “I wanted to show how it impacted people and that there was a whole system in place, it wasn’t just a result of a few bad people in there. It was a policy.”
Rev. Annett gathered stories and evidence and presented them to the heads of his local church. He was threatened and told to shut up. Rev. Annett said that the church even paid for his wife’s divorce. But he was not swayed.
He was defrocked in January 1995.
Rev. Annett wrote two books based on documents and personal stories. In 2005, he also made a film, UNREPENTANT: Kevin Annett and Canada’s Genocide, with filmmaker Louie Lawless.
“In organized religion I found there is an increasing problem because a lot of these churches are more political bodies than faith communities,” he said.
“Locally, it’s one thing for the people to have these church communities, but what they don’t see is that the churches are actually big corporations that are run by a small number of people, like PR people and lawyers. I learned that as I was getting thrown out of the church. It wasn’t the local people destroying my life and hushing up this whole thing, it was the national officials. That’s the problem with the Church, its corporate natured.”