Genocide in Canada: The Untold Story
by Rev. Kevin D. Annett, M.A., M.Div.
Secretary, The Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada
“I believe the conditions are being deliberately created in our Indian boarding schools to spread infectious disease. The death rate often exceeds fifty percent. This is a national crime.”
Dr. Peter Bryce, Chief Medical Officer, Department of Indian Affairs, April 15, 1907
“Then he kicked her. She went rolling down the stairs. She just lay there. She wasn't moving; she wasn't breathing. I see that all the time.”
Harriett Nahanee, eyewitness to the murder of Maisie Shaw, age 14, by Alberni Indian Residential School Principal Alfred Caldwell on December 24, 1946
The chief American Prosecutor at the Nuremburg Trials, Robert Jackson, claimed that under a regime that practiced genocide and mass murder, the oral testimonies of the survivors of that genocide are sufficient evidence to indict its perpetrators, since such a regime will never admit its culpability or provide written records to prove that the crimes occurred. In Jackson's words,
“Any civilized nation must be willing to accept the truth found within the shattered lives of the survivors of crimes against humanity ... Their accounts are the ultimate evidence that must be placed on the scales of justice.” (November 3, 1946)
Since December 18, 1995, hundreds of eyewitnesses to crimes of mass murder and genocide in Indian Residential Schools across Canada have come forward publicly to accuse the government of Canada and the Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Church of every act defined as Genocide under the United Nations' 1948 Convention on Genocide, which Canada ratified in 1952. And yet, since that date, not a single person has been indicted or jailed for any of these crimes, despite the fact that, according to the Canadian government's own records, over 50,000 aboriginal children died while in the residential schools between 1895 and 1984.
Quite simply, the churches and government of Canada have gotten away with mass murder.
For the past twelve years, I have had the honour of assisting many aboriginal people who survived the residential school nightmare to record their stories, gather their courage, and confront their torturers in what is surely the greatest David and Goliath struggle in Canadian history. Unfortunately, in this case, Goliath seems to have won.
Over the past several years, the Canadian government and churches that killed so many innocent children in their residential schools have absolved themselves of their crimes by redefining the entire issue as a matter of monetary “compensation” to the survivors rather than their own criminal liability. Hitler would have done no less had we won World War Two and held an “inquiry” into the fate of Jews in Europe. But in typically Canadian fashion, this reinventing of history to suit the needs of the perpetrators has meant that there is no actual redress possible for aboriginal survivors of genocide, despite the mountains of “healing and reconciliation” rhetoric being pumped out of the public relations machines of church and state in Canada.
Let me give you one example of the fraud being perpetrated on aboriginal people, and the Canadian public, by this system of cover-up and denial.
William Combes is the English name of a fifty two year old interior Salish man who was held prisoner in the Catholic residential schools in Kamloops and Mission, BC for eleven years of his childhood. In 1963, at the age of nine, William was tortured on a rack by a priest named Brother Murphy at the Kamloops school after he took some fruit from a neighbouring orchard one night, after having not eaten for two days. In the same orchard, William and another boy had witnessed the same priest bury the bodies of children who had died in the school. Sodomized every day for years, flogged, his joints dislocated, William spent years in prison for minor offences. Today, William is a homeless man in Vancouver, suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. And yet he has received not a penny in aid or compensation from either of the organizations that ruined his life, the Canadian government and the Roman Catholic church.
Since 1989, William has tried to win legal recognition of his torture in the residential school system, to no avail. Like most residential school victims, his case has been sidelined and ignored, while lawyers profit from his suffering. And, contrary to the government's claim that every residential school survivor will be rewarded ,000 without conditions, William was recently informed that he was not eligible for even this paltry sum because his claims against Brother Murphy and others could not be “verified”.
Last month, at the downtown eastside cafe where we meet and talk, William told me that since September, five of his aboriginal friends have either committed suicide or died of diabetes. They were all under the age of fifty, and had gone to the Kamloops residential school with him. And not one of them had ever received a penny of compensation or a day in court.
William and his deceased friends are typical of most of the residential school survivors across Canada: alone, impoverished, diseased, and dying at a rate of five to ten every day, they are the dwindling reminder of the worst crime in human history: the extermination of aboriginal nations in the New World at the hands of Christian Europe. And yet most of “Canada” carries on, oblivious to their fate, and hoping that they, like the uncomfortable fact of what we did and still do to them, will simply fade away.
And yet, as Robert Jackson observed, the fact of their testimonies remains as the “ultimate evidence” that indicts a genocidal system we like to call “western civilization”: a system that continues to despoil the land and ravage the lives of those without money, property or influence, like most aboriginal people, who remain prisoners in their own land.
Voltaire once wrote that all that we owe to the dead is the truth. In that sense, the only thing that Euro-Canadians can do in relation to aboriginal people is to fully disclose the truth, and be held personally accountable for the effects, of the residential school crimes. And yet that is the one thing that we are unwilling to do.
For example, the churches that ran these schools continue to refuse to open their records or identify the buried location of the tens of thousands of children who died in them. Normally, a mass murderer would be compelled to say what he did with his victims' bodies, but when the perpetrator is a clergyman or employee of a Christian church, a frightening sort of immunity from prosecution has allowed such murder to go unpunished.
This is not surprising, when one considers how the churches' partner in crime, the government of Canada, has dutifully passed legislation that absolves the Catholics, Anglicans and United Church from any liability for the residential school crimes, and even lays the burden of the legal expenses of these churches on Canadian taxpayers! Now, every tax paying family in Canada will personally aid these churches in avoiding any responsibility for murders and other crimes they committed on generations of innocent children.
Despite this sorry charade, and the real despair felt by most residential school survivors today, truth and international law are on the side of the survivors. Canada has already been condemned at the United Nations for its genocide of native people, and Cuba, Iran, and Guatemala recently tabled a motion to have Canada tried for crimes of genocide. Thanks to the work and the publications of our Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada, including a just-released documentary film on the subject entitled “Unrepentant”, many people and groups around the world are becoming aware of the crimes committed by Canada and its churches against indigenous people. The question now becomes, when and how will Canada and its mainline churches be brought to justice?
If the problem lies not in the stars, but in ourselves, as William Shakespeare observed, so too does the solution. Every Canadian citizen has the moral duty and the necessity under international law to refuse to patronize or fund any institution that committed and is concealing crimes against humanity, like the government itself, and the Catholic, Anglican and United Church of Canada. It's up to each of us to withhold all money from these churches, and even from the government, until they are held accountable for their crimes against aboriginal people.
But on a deeper level, we need to undo the ideas, the economics, and the practices that caused this genocide in the first place.
Before she died suddenly in January of 2004, my friend Virginia Baptiste of the Osoyoos Nation said to me,
“I don't expect you white people to drag yourselves into court for what you did to us. You sterilized my relatives, you murdered my brother Bugs, you beat my cousin to death at the Cranbrrok school. You've gotten away with it, for now. But there's a higher judge you all have to answer to, even if you don't believe it. You can see that judgement already in the dying rivers and the global warming and the rising suicides among your own children. You were really killing off yourselves, not us, by your genocide, because we'll always be here, but your way is going to fade and die. And then once it's gone, you may finally learn what your own teacher Jesus tried to show you but which you forgot, that his kingdom isn't in this world, it isn't about churches and money and who's got the power. It may take you all dying for you to finally learn that.”
Let us act now, while there is still time.
To learn more about the history of genocide in Canada and the work of the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada, see our website:
Also, order a copy of our award-winning* documentary film UNREPENTANT: Kevin Annett and Canada's Genocide through the author at his email: firstname.lastname@example.org , and view a trailer of this film on the website listed above.
* Best Director of a Documentary Film, New York Independent Film and Video Festival, November, 2006
28 December, 2006
Kevin D. Annett
260 Kennedy St., Nanaimo, BC V9R 2H8