by Kevin D. Annett
Punishment is now unfashionable. We prefer a meaningless collective guilt to a meaningful individual responsibility. - Thomas Szasz
The federal government conducted experiments on First Nations children in residential schools … One of the schools was located in Port Alberni. – Southam News Service, April 26, 2000
She was slightly older than me, but we would have been in the same grade in United Church Sunday school class, which we both attended as children. Every worship day, I wore a proper suit and tie and clutched my white offering envelope in which a single Canadian dollar would help fill the coffers of what the United Church still calls its “Mission and Service Fund”. But Vicky Sepass wore a shabby grey uniform and had nothing to put in the plate on Sundays, for she herself was the offering.
Church life for me began in Westworth United Church in a leafy Winnipeg suburb known as River Heights; but for Vicky, it began and ended within the dank walls of the Port Alberni Indian residential school. She died there sometime during March in the year 1965, when she and I were both nine years old.
I helped pay for her murder.
It may have taken a month for Vicky Sepass to starve to death in the special isolation ward where she was held without food and studied by military doctors as she wasted away. It was all part of an experiment to test human endurance to torture and trauma, arranged through an agreement between the United Church of Canada and the Defense Research Board in Ottawa. Test subjects were routinely raped, beaten and starved to death, and their responses and mental alacrity were carefully noted.
“They always raped me when they had me strapped down. Always. I got it every day like clockwork” remembers Kenny Quatell, who survived the same experiment at the United Church-run Nanaimo Indian Hospital.
The little white offering envelopes are still clutched every Sunday morning by the next young crop of unwitting killers. It’s still business as usual for the Mission and Service Fund, since of course the United Church got away with all of its atrocities, and made itself feel good and smug in the process. Normally, funds used for criminal purposes would be seized by the courts. But this is Canada, and the killers are still in charge.
After decades of battling this beast, and not changing it, I’ve realized what many “social activists” sense but rarely acknowledge: that we cannot bring down something that we ourselves are a part of. Rarely do we put ourselves in the equation of systemic evil, for the enemy, and the “real” problem, is always something and someone other than ourselves.
As for Vicky Sepass and all those other children who will die tomorrow at the hands of unaccountable power, they remain more than anything a legion of searching, implacable eyes, and an enormous and enduring question mark, directed at each one of us: but especially at all the slumbering United Church members who today keep funding the filth and its lies with a sweet hymn on their lips.