In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

A Day, and a Decade, Later: What has Changed for Us?

Posted by seumasach on July 26, 2008

Kevin D. Annett

Hidden from History

12th June, 2008

I awoke this morning to the same familiar sounds of east Hastings street, as birdsong was smothered by traffic’s din – a day after a government “apology”, and a decade after a Tribunal that started everything.

Faces have come and gone in one day, and in thirty six hundred, but the same cold reality stared back at me today in the hard eyes of angry desperation of the men and women, mostly aboriginal, who share these streets, and who never rest.

Steven Harper said “I’m sorry” to these people yesterday, but he didn’t look sorry as he lectured the gala throngs on Parliament Hill about the Indian residential schools. He didn’t look outraged, either, as he spoke about children being ripped forever from their homes and way of life. Nor, for that matter, did any other politician who spoke to the carefully arranged crowd of natives and whites.

But there was plenty of sorrow and outrage on our streets yesterday. Somebody else had just died, a native man named Vince who had, naturally, been jailed in residential school as a kid and suffered horribly there, and every day of his life thereafter. The clusters of people who camp around Main and Hastings were discussing Vince yesterday, rather than shuffling off obediently to the official viewings of Steven Harper’s “apology” arranged by the government’s flunky native chiefs.

“That’s one less Indian problem for the fuckers” commented Bingo, a homeless native guy who is always at the forefront of our protests outside the Catholic church that killed Vince.

“All their nice words don’t mean crap. Maybe to them they do but hey, it’s always been like that, right?”.


As much as Steven Harper and his friends know nothing of Bingo and Vince, they could not have spoken in Parliament yesterday and garnered such undeserved praise without the two of them, and all the other suffering throngs on every mean street across Canada that residential school survivors call home.

Yesterday’s Parliamentary extravaganza, in fact, was built entirely on the efforts and revelations of these survivors that began ten years ago today, in a union hall in the east end of Vancouver.

It was called the North West Tribunal into Canadian Residential Schools, and it was sponsored by a United Nations affiliate called IHRAAM. Early that spring of 1998, the late Harriett Nahanee and I invited IHRAAM to come and listen to the stories of the residential school survivors who we had been working with for two years, many of whom had – like Harriett – witnessed killings and burials of fellow students at the schools.

From June 12 to 14, twelve IHRAAM judges and a UN observer heard stories of murder, torture, involuntary sterilization and medical experimentation in west coast residential schools, from eyewitnesses: people like Belvy Breber, Dennis Charlie, Elmer Azak and Ed Martin. Exactly one reporter showed up to the event – the Globe and Mail ran a short piece about the Tribunal on June 20, 1998 – but the Tribunal was an historic first: the only independent attempt ever to document deliberate genocide by the government and churches of Canada.

This single event was responsible for all of the changes and gains that have been won for survivors in the past decade, including yesterday’s acknowledgment by a head of state that children did indeed die in church-run Indian residential schools in Canada. The Aboriginal Healing Fund, the first court settlements, and the Liberal government’s 1999 “apology” to survivors all occurred less than a year after our Tribunal.

And yet, like Bingo and Vince, the IHRAAM Tribunal is officially ignored, and for the same reason: it does not fit into the government’s plan of containment and concealment that was so evident yesterday in the House of Commons.

That plan is quite simple: to reduce the fact of genocide and mass murder to an accomodated issue of “abuse” that can be “resolved” with certain words and payments – and, in the process, to absolve the churches responsible for the crime from any responsibility for it.

A simple plan, but a potentially explosive one because of two threats: the spectre of lawsuits and scandal as more survivors came forward in the wake of the IHRAAM Tribunal; and the appearance of first my book Hidden from History: The Canadian Holocaust, spawned by the Tribunal, and then, last year, my documentary film UNREPENTANT, whose release prompted the raising of the issue of disappeared residential school children in Parliament in April, 2007.

Inspector Peter Montague of the RCMP is even more complimentary towards me. The chief smear artist of the covert operations branch of the RCMP in B.C., Montague engineered the public relations disaster known as the Gustafson Lake standoff, when unarmed Shuswap natives were assaulted by military vehicles and 77,000 rounds of fire from RCMP officers. Oddly, Montague was then assigned to the residential schools issue in 1996, after the first lawsuits began against his employer and the United Church of Canada.

Montague sent a number of undercover agents into our IHRAAM Tribunal, two of whom are still busy smearing me all over the world. But to one of these agents, who subsequently spilled the beans, Montague said,

Kevin Annett is the one to worry about … Discredit him and you discredit the issue.” (spring, 1999)

It’s strangely reassuring to see how so very little has changed in the past decade, which figures, considering how much the churches and government have to lose if they ever had to actually face the music over all those kids they killed in their residential schools. Still today, the official organs of church, state and mass media in Canada seem haunted and obsessed by me, as if I am the issue; as if I personify the massively guilty conscience of “white” Canada.

That guilt struggled to be assuaged yesterday in Parliament, and in the media orgasm that tries to convince us that the “issue” of residential schools is finally resolved. But it cannot be alleviated, any more than can the pain of Bingo, or Vince.

We are, all of us, quite missing the point: namely, that one cannot “apologize” for or resolve that which we do not understand.

To comprehend the horror and fact of the residential schools requires that we look first and last at ourselves, as we truly are: as part of a Thing that has spawned not only genocide, but planetary ecocide.

Holding up such a mirror to that truth and to my own culture has been my sole waking purpose for the past thirteen years. And, thankfully, I have witnessed over those years an amazing thing: the official wall of denial has begun to crumble, despite all the King’s horses and all the King’s men.

Last year, it would have been inconceivable for the Canadian media and government to be speaking almost casually about unmarked graves and dead residential school children. Yet now, even the National Post proclaims in its headlines, “Are Reconciliation and Truth Compatible?” (a slogan I’ve used for years now); and it’s suddenly become fashionable for the press to play voyeuristically with tales of buried native children, while holding no-one in particular accountable.

More is being admitted, all the time, as the Thing’s mask slips. So don’t believe the Big Lie emanating from Ottawa yesterday. It’s all smoke and mirrors, designed to hide the crumbling tower of colonial Canada.

Believe, instead, that Vince’s time of vindication is coming; and along with it is approaching a great and terrible judgement on those masters of Church and State who like to imagine they have gotten away with their crime.

Ten years has taught me to stand aside from their world, as it topples.

June 12, 2008

Kevin D. Annett is a community minister, film maker and author who lives and works in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, on occupied Squamish Nation territory.

His website is:

One Response to “A Day, and a Decade, Later: What has Changed for Us?”

  1. Thank you all for posting this! I hope to meet you when I come to Glasgow around September 8-12.
    best regards,
    Kevin Annett

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: