From Kevin Annett’s upcoming book Unrelenting …
The Plague reached out and punished us after we counted coup on it that day at the Cathedral. It especially hated Billy Combes because, ennobled and emboldened by his capacity to stand up against it, he went on to undress its horror even more, and name a name, on our airwaves.
We didn’t expect the counter-attack, as elated as we all were by the media fireworks that followed our church occupation and similar seizures by friends of other churches in Toronto and Winnipeg.
The Thing was on the defensive. Ottawa announced an “official investigation” and a possible upcoming “apology” for the residential schools, goaded by Members of Parliament who, echoing our line, began calling for a return of the children for a proper burial. And like a strategic missile launched at a dying foe, our year-in-the-making documentary film about the Canadian Holocaust entitled Unrepentant was released precisely at that time, and was watched everywhere: including in the corridors of power.
All of this made even our most dejected aboriginal members become cautiously hopeful: Billy Combes in particular.
Before our seizure of the catholic Cathedral, he couldn’t even approach a church without becoming ill, no doubt recalling his sodomizing and torture on the rack in the Kamloops residential school basement. But that day of our action, Billy had been there with us, wandering up and down the church aisles, giving leaflets to aghast parishioners and grinning in triumph. And the week after the event, he was actually able to stop drinking rot gut booze, for the first time in many years.
“I couldn’t let you guys down” he explained to me shortly after, when I’d asked him how he’d found the nerve to walk into the cathedral with all of us.
“Now it feels like some of the fear’s gone for me”
So inspired, Billy began to share even darker remembrances on the airwaves of Hidden from History. And one day, he named a perpetrator who calls herself the Queen of England. As through the mists of time …
None of the children knew who she was. All they knew is that they were actually fed and given new clothes the day before she arrived. She wore an expensive suit and bright white boots that laced up the front. The boots were remembered by the children who survived what followed, because all of them had to kneel before it and kiss it.
Billy Combes was barely eleven, and he and his buddy Jessie Jules tried to get out of attending the picnic with the strange woman, since they smelled trouble. But all of the children in those two dorms of the Kamloops Indian School were herded by catholic priests with cattle prods into the front hallway of the school, and from there, into the school bus that took them to Dead Man’s Creek, two miles west of there.
The woman was called “Your Majesty” by the priests who accompanied her, and she was joined by a thin and cold-eyed man that one of the priests called the Prince. It was a short ride down a dusty gravel road.
Once they’d arrived at the Creek, the woman and the Prince stood apart from the children and examined them like they were cattle at an auction. The woman even pointed at several of the children. The priest in charge, a Brother Murphy, began separating ten children from the main group: seven boys and three girls, all of them from that part of central British Columbia.
None of them was older than ten years old.
The Queen and the Prince left with the children soon after that, while the other kids were given lemonade to drink. Billy remembers the lemonade. It had a strange taste to it, and all the remaining kids were forced to drink it. Billy remembers nothing after that until he awoke in his bed back in the dorm.
None of the ten children who left with the Queen and the Prince were ever seen again.
Brother Murphy heard Billy asking questions about the absent children a week or so later, and after pummeling Billy unconscious he placed him in a closet for two weeks where Billy almost died. But he never forgot about the ten missing children, or the strange woman with the white laced boots, on that day of October 10, 1964: a date whose numbers, like the disappeared boys and girls, all add up to ten.
“And Job had seven sons, and three daughters … and behold, there came a great wind from beyond the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, which fell upon the children of Job, and they were killed …” (Job 1:2, 19)
Billy Combes began speaking about that day when the Kamloops Ten disappeared; not just on my radio program, but in interviews, at rallies, and even once to a reporter who quickly hurried away when he realized what Billy was saying.
That went on until the day that Billy was killed at St. Paul’s catholic hospital in Vancouver, just before he was to come to London, England and speak about what he knew before a public Tribunal.