Your Crime is Not Diminished by Time, or Apology:
Why Nothing has Changed for Victims of Church Torture, or for the Victimizers
By Rev. 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 as 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 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, unavenged 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 love 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 Nuremburg, 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 film on genocide in Canada. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at: www.hiddenfromhistory.org
260 Kennedy St.
Nanaimo, B.C. Canada V9R 2H8