The film Unrepentant: Kevin Annett and Canadaʼs Genocide documents the “deliberate and systematic extermination” of non-Christian indigenous people within the Indian residential school system by the Catholic, United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches, in collusion with the federal government. First-hand testimonies from residential school survivors are interwoven with Annettʼs own story of how, as a United Church minister in Port Alberni, he was fired, publicly defrocked, and had his reputation maligned by church officials after he uncovered evidence of murder and other crimes committed by the church through its Indian boarding schools.
Around 1929, the churches were given legal guardianship of all the children who attended the schools, and Annett says this gave school staff free rein to perpetrate any atrocity upon their wards without having to answer to anyone.
The list of crimes is long, and includes beatings, electric shocks, forced sterilization, medical experimentation, starvation, rape as well as various other forms of sexual abuse, and murder.
As the residential school survivors in Unrepentant tell their stories, the pain evident on their stoic faces, an understanding of what went on in those institutions gradually emerges. Some spoke of young girls becoming pregnant as a result of rape, or nuns becoming pregnant after sexually abusing boys; some described being made to dig graves for the babies who would be killed after birth.
Rick Lavalee talked about hearing the agonized cries of his only brother as he was being tortured with a cattle prod. The boy died on the spot. Belvy Breber recounted how her brother was hanged in the gym of the Kuper Island school. She was told heʼd committed suicide, but she didnʼt believe it. While the boy was still hanging, the other kids were paraded through the gym as a warning that this could happen to them if they didnʼt behave.
Of the 100,000 who went through the schools, it is estimated that at least 50,000 were killed. Many of those who died were buried in unmarked graves on or around the school grounds; most of the bodies were never returned to the families.
Harriet Nahanee, who spent five years at the Alberni Residential School, said she remembered the RCMP arriving at her village in a gunboat to round up the children who were to be taken to the school. Children as young as three were often taken even though the schools werenʼt supposed to accept anyone under the age of seven. If the parents fought this abduction of their children, they were liable to be arrested under the provisions of the Indian Act, something Annett calls “a piece of race-based legislation” in that it almost completely took away the rights of the native peoples.
Germ warfare was also used. Narrator Lori OʼRorke said deliberately-spread smallpox epidemics in the 1700s and 1800s killed “untold millions” of the worldʼs indigenous people and wiped out many Canadian aboriginals even before the residential schools began operating. Annett says approximately 98 percent of native populations on the west coast were decimated by smallpox. Survivors in Unrepentant describe how, during a tuberculosis outbreak, they were made to play and sleep with infected children so that they too would become infected with the highly contagious disease.
While most of the schools had closed by 1984, the last federally run facility, the Gordon Residential School in Saskatchewan, closed in 1996. The legacy of Canadaʼs residential schools, says Annett, is evident in the high rates of suicide, substance abuse and poverty seen in aboriginal communities across the country.
Unrepentant: Kevin Annett and Canadaʼs Genocide is written by Kevin Annett and Louie Lawless, directed by Louie Lawless, and produced by Kevin Annett, Louie Lawless and Lori OʼRorke. For more information go to: hiddenfromhistory.org
They came with a Bible and their religion—stole our land, crushed our spirit, and now tell us we should be thankful to the “Lord” for being saved.
Chief Pontiac, American Indian Chieftain, died 1769
[See Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide by George Tinker; A Violent Evangelism: The Political and Religious Conquest of the Americas by Luis N. Rivera; and, “Satanizing the American Indian,” New England Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 4, Dec. 1994]
On average two thirds of the native population were killed by colonist-imported smallpox before violence began. This was a great sign of “the marvelous goodness and providence of God” to the Christians of course, e.g., the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony wrote in 1634, as “for the natives, they are near all dead of the smallpox, so as the Lord hath cleared our title to what we possess.”
Although none of the settlers would have survived winter without native help, they soon set out to expel and exterminate the Indians. Warfare among (North American) Indians was rather harmless, in comparison to European standards, and was meant to avenge insults rather than conquer land. In the words of some of the Pilgrim fathers: “Their Wars are far less bloody,” so that there usually was “no great slaughter of either side.” Indeed, “They might fight seven years and not kill seven men.” What is more, the Indians usually spared women and children.
In the spring of 1612 some English colonists found life among the (generally friendly and generous) natives attractive enough to leave Jamestown—”being idle…did run away unto the Indians”—to live among them. “Governor Thomas Dale had them hunted down and executed: ‘Some he appointed to be hanged. Some burned. Some to be broken upon wheels, others to be staked and some shot to death.’” Such were the measures reserved for fellow Englishmen “who wished to act like Indians.” But “for the native people of Virginia” methods were different: “When an Indian was accused by an Englishman of stealing a cup and failing to return it, the English response was to attack the natives in force, burning the entire community” down.
On the territory that is now Massachusetts the founding fathers of the colonies were committing genocide in what has become known as the Peqout War. The killers were New England Puritan Christians, refugees from persecution in their own home country England. When however, a dead colonist was found, apparently killed by Narragansett Indians, the Puritan colonists wanted revenge. Despite the Indian chiefʼs pledge they attacked. Somehow they seem to have lost the idea of what they were after, because when they were greeted by Pequot Indians (long-time foes of the Narragansetts) the troops nevertheless made war on the Pequots and burned their villages. The puritan commander-in-charge, John Mason, wrote after one massacre: “And indeed such a dreadful Terror did the Almighty let fall upon their Spirits, that they would fly from us and run into the very Flames, where many of them perished…God was above them, who laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven…Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the Place with dead Bodies.” So “the Lord was pleased to smite our Enemies in the hinder Parts, and to give us their land for an inheritance.” Because of his readersʼ assumed knowledge of Deuteronomy, there was no need for Mason to quote the words that immediately follow: “Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth. But thou shalt utterly destroy them…” (Deut. 20) Masonʼs comrade Underhill recalled how “great and doleful was the bloody sight to the view of the young soldiers” yet reassured his readers that “sometimes the Scripture declares women and children must perish with their parents.” Other Indians were killed in successful plots of poisoning. The colonists even had dogs especially trained to kill Indians and to devour children from their mothers breasts, in the colonistsʼ own words: “blood Hounds to draw after them, and Mastiffs to seize them.” In this way they continued until the extermination of the Pequots was near. The surviving handful of Indians “were parceled out to live in servitude. John Endicott and his pastor wrote to the governor asking for ‘a share’ of the captives, specifically ‘a young woman or girl and a boy if you think good.’”
Other tribes were to follow the same path. Comment the Christian exterminators: “Godʼs Will, which will at last give us cause to say: How Great is His Goodness! and How Great is his Beauty!” “Thus doth the Lord Jesus make them to bow before him, and to lick the Dust!” Moreover, “Peace treaties were signed with every intention to violate them: when the Indians ‘grow secure upon (sic) the treaty’, advised the Council of State in Virginia, ‘we shall have the better Advantage both to surprise them, & cut down their Corn.’”
In 1624 sixty heavily armed Englishmen cut down 800 defenseless Indian men, women and children. In a single massacre in “King Philipʼs War” of 1675 and 1676 some “600 Indians were destroyed. A delighted Cotton Mather, revered pastor of the Second Church in Boston, later referred to the slaughter as a ‘barbecue.’”
To summarize: Before the arrival of the English, the western Abenaki people in New Hampshire and Vermont had numbered 12,000. Less than half a century later about 250 remained alive—a destruction rate of 98%. The Pocumtuck people had numbered more than 18,000, fifty years later they were down to 920—95% destroyed. The Quiripi-Unquachog people had numbered about 30,000, fifty years later they were down to 1500—95% destroyed. The Massachusetts people had numbered at least 44,000, fifty years later barely 6000 were alive—81% destroyed. These are only a few examples of the multitude of tribes living before Christian colonists set their foot on the New World. All this was before the smallpox epidemics of 1677 and 1678 had occurred. And the carnage was not over then. All of the above lay only at the beginning of European colonization before the frontier age actually had begun. A total perhaps exceeding 150 million Indians (of both Americas) were destroyed from 1500 to 1900, on average two thirds by smallpox and other epidemics, that leaves some 50 million killed directly by violence, bad treatment and slavery.
Reverend Solomon Stoddard, one of New Englandʼs most esteemed religious leaders, in “1703 formally proposed to the Massachusetts Governor that the colonists be given the financial wherewithal to purchase and train large packs of dogs ‘to hunt Indians as they do bears.’”
Massacre of Sand Creek, Colorado 1864: Colonel John Chivington, a former Methodist minister and still elder in the church (“I long to be wading in gore”) had a Cheyenne village of about 600, mostly women and children, gunned down despite the chiefsʼ waving with a white flag: 400-500 killed. From an eye-witness account: “There were some thirty or forty squaws collected in a hole for protection; they sent out a little girl about six years old with a white flag on a stick; she had not proceeded but a few steps when she was shot and killed. All the squaws in that hole were afterwards killed.”
In the 1860s in Hawaii “the Reverend Rufus Anderson surveyed the carnage that by then had reduced those islandsʼ native population by 90 percent or more, and he declined to see it as tragedy; the expected total die-off of the Hawaiian population was only natural, this missionary said, somewhat equivalent to ‘the amputation of diseased members of the body,’”
Much of the information for the above was derived from D. Stannard, American Holocaust, Oxford University Press 1992
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