by Kevin Annett
I’ve been ignoring the orchestrated circus calling itself the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but now that it’s meeting in my own backyard, I’ve been asked to comment.
Frankly, it’s all quite the déjà vu experience. The travesty going on this weekend in Victoria reminds me of a story told to me by one of the few survivors who hasn’t been gagged.
When the children weren’t being starved, raped and tortured to death, they were dressed in decent clothing every Sunday and paraded in front of a smiling and appreciative middle-class congregation at the local United Church. And there, to the happy amusement of the official Christians, the boys and girls of the Edmonton Indian Residential School would sing hymns of praise to Jesus.
After they had performed for the Christians, the children would return to the school, where half of them would die.
Those who did survive are still performing for us, because we still desperately need to smile on Indians and think good of ourselves. That’s really why we created the misnamed “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”: to reassure ourselves that we aren’t, in fact, murderers.
The Indians are singing a new tune to us these days, perhaps not a church hymn anymore, but one just as crafted and controlled by us. Those chosen survivors whose statements have been reviewed and officially approved by the state and church-funded TRC are presenting to us what we need to hear: a sanitized version of the unspeakable that will not disturb either our sleep or our legal liability.
The survivors will say many things, but none of it will ever be acted upon, or, heaven forbid, used as a way to bring to justice the churches responsible for killing more than 50,000 children. That’s not allowed. The head TRC official, another sanitized Indian named Murray Sinclair, has even called the whole thing “a big venting session and nothing more”.
Like in the days they sang in the church choir, the survivors will be doing all the performing. We will do the listening. That’s how the game has always worked. That’s how we learned how to conquer and enslave them: watch, and learn, and manipulate.
One of the few indigenous people left standing, a traditional Anishinabe man named Peter Yellow Quill, had the temerity to ask the TRC Commissioners in Winnipeg last June why none of the church officials would be testifying at the hearing.
“Shouldn’t the people who caused this holocaust be made to explain and be held accountable?” Peter asked.
He was told to sit down.
Peter still doesn’t get it, but I don’t blame him. He doesn’t understand who and what he’s dealing with yet. Neither do all the desperate brown men and women who will walk on razors and publicly undo themselves once more by recalling their torture in order to provide satisfaction to we who caused their suffering: the Mu Multh Nees.
That’s a west coast word from a nation long gone, and it means, “Those who are nothing”. It’s what the Nuu-chah-nulth people named the first Europeans they encountered.
I’ve pondered that word mu multh nee ever since it was first told to me in 1993 by a hereditary Nuu-chah-nulth chief in Port Alberni, where I began to learn of the mass graves of all the children behind the United Church residential school there.
Stirring his tea, the old man explained,
“Sometimes it means ‘the ghost people’, ‘cause that’s what you seemed like to my ancestors, spirits who were lost. But it really means, people who are Nothing.”
“Nothing?” I repeated, confused.
“Yeah” he said. “You appear to be real but you aren’t.”
Appearance, after all, is everything to us Nothings.
If we create an appearance of an investigation and call it a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, then it is faithfully believed to be so: even when it has no power to subpoena, or prosecute, or allow names of criminals to be named.
If we speak of healing, we genuinely believe that we know what that is; and that we are actually capable of it. But the Appearance is shattered in an instant by simple questions like “Where are the bodies?”, and “Who is responsible?”, which is why the TRC must be as rigidly controlled as a Sunday church service.
Most of the many aboriginal survivors I know have avoided the TRC like the plague, knowing that Nothing will come of it. And sure enough, tomorrow in Victoria, as at every TRC event, the carefully screened and selected witnesses will tell their tales of woe and desperately believe, as all slaves must, that Caesar will be moved, and will change, as if he were human. But that which is Nothing cannot change.
And yet, the performance must go on, and this week the Canadian “media”, which has for so many years utterly ignored the evidence of murder and torture and mass graves at the Indian residential schools, will suddenly and dutifully describe how something called truth and healing has finally arrived. All of the right kind of Indians will be quoted. But the survivors will continue to die in droves. And the graves will remain closed.
My closest friends worry about me these days, even more than normal. One of them called me up yesterday and said,
“It must be hard for you to be so ignored when you’ve been so vindicated. After all you’ve sacrificed, I don’t know how you can stand it, this huge cover up of the truth.”
“It’s okay” I replied. “None of it’s real”.
For in the last days, I will pour out my spirit on those I have chosen: even on my poorest servants. For the sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and terrible Day of the Lord. And there will be deliverance for the survivors of that Day, even though their wound be incurable. For I the Lord God will make myself known to them.