Native American and First Nation tribes in the United States and Canada continue to seek answers and healing in connection with the deaths of thousands of government and church run Indian residential schools. Thousands of children remain missing, presumably dead and groups on both sides of the border are demanding answers.
Activists demand the identification, location and repatriation of thousands of remains of children who died in school facilities under the care, custody and control of the Church of England in Canada, also known as the Anglican Church.
The letter reads, in part:
We, as the friends and relatives of tens of thousands of children who died or were murdered in Indian Residential Schools in Canada established and run by your Church of England and the British Crown from 1867 to 1996, do hereby demand that you, Elizabeth Windsor, in your capacity as Queen of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, and Head of the Church of England, publicly disclose the cause of death, and whereabouts of the buried remains, of all children who died in Indian Residential Schools operated by the Church of England in Canada, aka the Anglican Church. [T]his Common Law Notice also requires that you, Elizabeth Windsor, arrange the immediate repatriation without conditions of the remains of these persons to their homes for a proper burial. [Letter/Press Release]
Activists have stepped up the volume of their protests over the last month, fielding protests at several Catholic and Anglican churches in Canada, demanding a response from both Catholic and Anglican church authorities regarding the location of more than 15,000 missing children, after a government fact-finding commission determined that criminal acts had occurred in the schools.
The Canadian government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued a report stating that criminal acts occurred in the schools, but church officials continue to issue statements of denial, claiming no evidence exists for the deaths:
On January 1, the government's "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" (TRC) head, Bob Watts, stated that criminal acts had gone on in the schools, accounting for the deaths of "unknown" numbers of children. Yet the Catholic, Anglican and United Church continue to claim that no evidence exists for these deaths, despite documentation uncovered by the TRC, and the growing numbers of native eyewitnesses who claim that homicide and mass graves were common in the residential schools. (Press Release)
Canadian media have reported that church authorities have their backs against the wall, after relatives, survivors and supporters of the alleged child victims increased the level of activity with protests, boycotts, documentary film production and press conferences held by survivors of the schools. The Canadian government responded with the creation of a “fact-finding” commission, but Native activists strongly objected to the presence of one of the members of the commission, claiming the commissioner was allegedly part of a church cover-up and reportedly was responsible for hiding records.
Not surprisingly, the groups responsible for this genocide are doing their best to conceal their guilt. In late December, on the eve of an investigation, the United Church of Canada closed their residential school records to the public; and yet one of the officials responsible for hiding these records, former Moderator Bill Phipps, was, amazingly, appointed by the government to the Selection Panel that will choose the Commissioners who will be investigating the residential school deaths! (Ibid)
Aboriginal groups from around the world have issued a strong statement of support for the Canadian survivors, including participants in a regional conference of activists in Mexico in the fall last year:
At a regional conference of more than 1,200 indigenous activists in Chipas, Mexico in the fall of 2007, organized by the Zapatista movement (EZLN), a motion was passed to endorse the efforts of the non-governmental Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada to hold an international inquiry into genocide in church-run Indian Residential Schools. (Press Release)
The Canadian government has paid thousands of residential school survivors, but the location of gravesites for thousands of dead Indian children is a closely kept secret, something activists say must be changed. Annett says the protests, press conferences and public meetings of survivors have been successful; however, activists say they have a debt to the dead, a duty to seek answers.
Quite simply, we have backed the powers of this land up against a wall. This is a critical moment in the history of all our nations, a crossroads that may allow us to see into ourselves, and change. And so we owe it to the dead, and to the living, to clearly look at the Thing that caused these deaths, and continues to ravage our land and its peoples. (Ibid)
Human rights activists say they will continue the pressure and are planning informational events across North America over the next few months. Activist and documentary film maker, Rev. Kevin Anette, (Eagle Strong Voice) says that human rights supporters plan protests similar to those ones held in late 2007 and early 2008:
Similar actions are being planned across the continent over the coming month. I am travelling in Ontario, Quebec, New York and the eastern USA during February on a speaking and action tour, then doing the same tour through western Canada in April. (Press Release)
For thousands of school survivors, many of whom suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), the memories are an open wound. Some still suffer from horrendous memories and one woman told a reporter that even today, she cringes when she sees a Catholic nun. Her memories, like those of untold numbers of others, continue to fester in her mind.
Others tell of beatings, being forced to work under unsafe conditions:
"In 1936 a fifteen-year-old girl from the nearby Shubenacadie Reserve refused to return to the school and gave the following statement to the agent and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police:
"I have been going to Indian school for the past five years.... Before my holidays this year I was employed in kitchen for eleven weeks.... In the eleven weeks ... I spent a total of two weeks in school. The Sister has beaten me many times over the head and pulled my hair and struck me on the back of neck with a ruler and at times grabbed ahold of me and beat me on the back with her fists.
I have also been ordered to stand on the outside of the windows with a rope around my waist to clean windows on the fourth floor with a little girl holding the rope. When I told the Sister I was afraid to go out the window she scolded me and made me clean the window and threatened to beat me if I did not do it. This is being done to other children.
After we get a beating we are asked what we got the beating for and if we tell them we do not know we get another beating. The Sisters always tell us not to tell our parents about getting a beating." (Daniel N. Paul, We Were Not the Savages)
Many say the healing process cannot begin until the fate of the missing children is known. They also say oral histories of the schools’ survivors must be recorded before human mortality erases those memories. While the multi-billion dollar settlement from the government and church entities pays part of the blood debt, activists say there is still a lot of work to do, particularly for the survivors.
Survivors are often trapped in a psychological nightmare, crippled by fear and self-destructive behavior. Many could remain in that state until the healing process begins. Survivors say:
we cannot hope to go forward until many more native people, and especially residential school survivors, release their fear and step forward publicly to tell their stories and name the criminals. We must record the evidence and stories of the eyewitnesses before they die and the truth is lost forever. (Ibid)
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