Part One: How the Fix Began, or, Sweeping Up the Little Bones
Sunday, April 14, 1996 – Port Alberni, British Columbia
With a foresight unusual for United Church of Canada bureaucrats, Marion Best and Virginia Coleman of the General Council Office convene a secret meeting this evening with top officials of the west coast Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council (NTC). The latter have recently commenced the first major class action lawsuit against that church for the crimes committed by its employees in its Alberni Indian residential school.
Marion and Virginia have brought along their cheque book.
The confidential conclave is not without a touch of irony, for it takes place at St. Andrew’s United Church, the former clerical abode of the Reverend Kevin D. Annett, who has just recently been fired without cause and threatened with defrocking by the same top church officers after he imprudently began asking questions about missing brown children at the said school.
Unfortunately for the beleaguered duo of Marion Best and Virginia Coleman, one of Kevin’s associates, the Reverend Bruce Gunn, is present that night at the secret meeting with the west coast chiefs. And like the proverbial fly on the wall, or snake in the grass, depending on one’s viewpoint, Bruce Gunn later gives to the sadder but wiser Reverend Annett a blow by blow account of what transpired.
The buck that evening stops with Virginia Coleman, who as General Secretary of the United Church brandishes an offer she is sure the chubby NTC chieftains will not refuse.
“The United Church is willing to provide some monetary compensation to a limited number of our former residential school students” she declares, her eyes never lifting from her attorney’s carefully worded script. “But there are two conditions to our offer.”
One can assume that at this point, visions of something more than sugar plums are starting to dance in the heads of the Indians who are present, all of whom learned the score while children themselves in the local death camp called a residential school.
“The first condition is that you must agree to restrict your litigation to issues of personal injury and not matters of a criminal nature, such as the alleged killing of students. And the second condition is that you must disassociate yourselves from Kevin Annett and his claims of murders in the Alberni residential school.”
Our faithful observer, Bruce Gunn, was surprised by the speed with which the august body of aboriginal leaders gobbled up the deal. Nelson Keitlah, Cliff Atleo and all the other NTC brass who were present that evening swallowed what was offered to them, but not, of course, before demanding an added sweetener in the form of certain considerable benefits that would accrue to themselves personally as part of the backroom arrangement.
Not surprisingly, there was a general atmosphere of good will and “reconciliation” prevailing afterwards among the pale and brown skinned aficionados who were present that night. That spirit of course did not extend to anyone outside the Arrangement: especially to Kevin Annett, his family, or any of the many thousands of residential school “survivors” who could now expect, at best, a few drops of blood money.
Those of us who occasionally wonder why no native politician in Canada has ever called for a criminal prosecution of the churches that killed 60,000 of their own relatives should remember the Port Alberni meeting of April 14, 1996. For that night’s Arrangement set the pattern for all of the subsequent concealment of Genocide in Canada by the churches that did the killing and their willing accomplices who call themselves “First Nations leaders”.