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Church’s agenda to assimilate First Nations’ children

by Archives November 20, 2007

It hasn’t been easy for Kevin Annett to deal with the history of Canada’s residential school system for natives in the 19th and 20th centuries.
A former United church minister, Annett spoke with The Concordian when he came to Montreal to show his film Unrepentant: Kevin Annett and Canada’s Genocide at the McGill School of Social Work on Oct. 24. The movie reveals the story of the Canadian residential school system, which was designed to assimilate Canada’s First Nations population and, according to Annett, to steal First Nations land, along with his own struggle to rectify history.
The film presents documented evidence along with numerous personal testimony claiming that mass murder, forced sterilization, medical experimentation, electroshock therapy and physical and sexual abuse took place in the Presbyterian, United and Catholic Church-run residential schools for natives.
“The residential school system in Canada had the foundational purpose of deliberate and systematic eradication of all indigenous people that would not leave their land and resources, abolish their own cultures and languages and become Christians,” said Annett.
The most damning piece of evidence in the film is a report filed by Dr. Peter Bryce the chief medical officer for Indian Affairs who did a tour of the residential school system in 1907 and wrote, “I believe conditions are being deliberately created in our residential schools to spread infectious diseases. The mortality rate in some places exceeds 50 per cent a year. This is a national crime.” Bryce found that from 1894 to 1908 between 35 and 60 per cent of children in Western Canadian schools died before their fifth year of entry.
Bryce also wrote that healthy children were forced to sleep and play alongside children infected with tuberculosis, then nothing was done to treat those infected. “They wanted to kill off half the children to cull the numbers down,” said Annett.
On Dec. 15, 1907 the Ottawa Sun printed a front page article on Bryce’s report. “[It was] talked about 100 years ago in the mainstream press and yet today so many people are talking like we didn’t know this,” said Annett.
In Unrepentant, Annett shows a picture in a mainstream textbook called “Shingwauk’s Vision.” The photo shows a child with open tuberculosis sores sitting in the midst of healthy students. “When you have tuberculosis you are quarantined, you don’t sit with healthy children,” said Annett.
Annett also said the government policy of having Natives taken from their families by the RCMP and into these schools was made possible by something called the Application for Admission Form. “Native parents had to sign or they would go to jail. This form surrendered guardianship rights to the principle of the residential school. This explains why these things could happen, they could do whatever they wanted to these kids,” said Annett.
In 1994, Annett discovered that much of the First Nations land given to the Presbyterian and United Church “solely for the education and spiritual upkeep of the Ahousit Natives” in Port Alberni was sold to a major logging company.
One year later after Annett wrote a letter asking both Churches to return this land, he was fired from his job as minister of St. Andrews United Church without cause or due process.
Annett believes he was fired because he had allowed the Natives to tell their stories of abuse from the pulpit. “In this forum in the Church people told us of the residential schools as well as a hidden history of the Church selling off First Nations land to its corporate benefactors,” said Annett.
The people he allowed to speak from the pulpit included Harriet Nahanee who spoke of the time she saw a girl named Maisie Shaw kicked down the stairs to her death in 1946 by the school principle in Port Alberni. Bill Seward, a survivor of the Kuper Island Catholic residential school, also saw his sister Maggie die after being pushed out a third story window.
“As a minister you learn to detect bullshit pretty quickly in people and you can tell in somebody’s eyes when they’re suffering. It’s incredibly painful for them to tell these stories. They’re not making this stuff up,” said Annett.
In 1997 the United Church spent a quarter of a million dollars to hold its first public de-listing hearing to have Annett permanently removed from the United Church.
“I was denied all rights of natural law. I was never told the charges against me, the Church refused to tell me who my accusers were and the de-listing panel was not comprised of my peers, but three hand-picked individuals who were friends and associates of one of the men who had me fired,” said Annett.
In March of that year Kevin Annett was officially de-frocked.”Then I realized that like the natives I could never get out of this, what I had to do was to tell the truth,” said Annett. So he decided to hold a public inquiry, the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada, in 1998.
At the commission survivors of the schools testified that in 1939 at Kuper Island Catholic residential school German doctors performed medical experimentation on native children. “They were injecting natives in the chest with chemicals that were killing them,” said Annett.
“Women showed up and described being sterilized simply because they were Indian and wouldn’t go to Church,” said Annett. After entering a residential school in 1939 Sarah Modeste of the Cowichan Nation testified that when she gave birth to her daughter; “it hurt really bad and I kept bleeding, then I learned that my tubes had been tied. I heard [the doctor] say he was getting paid $300 for each Indian woman he sterilized.”
After holding the tribunal Annett claims both he and the natives who testified were harassed by the RCMP and United Church. “[The natives who testified] were harassed and thrown out of their jobs. One woman had her house ransacked by the RCMP while her entire family was held at gunpoint,” said Annett.
In 2001 he published the accumulated personal testimony and documented evidence of his work, “Hidden from History: the Canadian Holocaust.”
In 2005 the Canadian government announced a $1.9 billion compensation package to benefit survivors, but this amounts to only $10,000 for the first year and $3,000 for every year thereafter and victims are forced to pay their legal fees to prove their case.
Annett told The Concordian this settlement didn’t do justice to the victims. His goal now is to convince people in the United Nations human rights branch in Geneva, that these crimes did happen and Canada’s past is one marred by a genocide that has been hidden from history.

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