Reflection: In Times like These

True Happiness in Times like These: The Lesson from my Fallen Uncle

by Kevin D. Annett

 Written on the 70th anniversary of his death for another

 

Sub.Lt. Robert I.L. Annett (author’s uncle), front row, third from right (killed in action)

He comprehends his trust, and to the same keeps faithful with a singleness of aim;

And therefore does not stoop, nor lie in wait for wealth, or honours, or for worldly state, or mild concerns of ordinary life;

But who, if he be called upon to face some awful moment to which Heaven has joined great issues, good or bad for human kind, Is happy as a Lover; and attired with sudden brightness, like a Man inspired.

He to whom neither shape of danger can dismay, nor thought of tender happiness betray; Who, not content that former worth stand fast, looks forward, persevering to the last.

Or if he must fall to sleep without his fame, and leave a dead unprofitable name, finds comfort in himself and in his cause;

And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws His breath in confidence of Heaven’s applause:

This is the happy Warrior; this is he whom every Man in arms should wish to be.

- “The Happy Warrior” by William Wordsworth, 1770-1850

…….

My father is the only one in the faded photograph who still draws breath.

He was a boy of fifteen when the family photo was taken: the day before his eldest brother Bob left forever to serve as the youngest officer on the doomed Canadian destroyer HMCS Athabaskan.

My younger father stares soberly into the camera, bearing the same troubled look as every other member of his family, save one: nineteen year old Bob himself, whose easy and gentle smile seems untouched by the war that waits to engulf him.

One of the sailors who survived the Germans’ torpedoing of the Athabaskan seven decades ago this evening, on April 29, 1944, described, later, how Bob wore the same confident radiance in the dark and icy waters of the English Channel as men died about him. He recalls how Bob tried leading the ship’s survivors in song to keep their spirits and them alive, as the ship sank and the waters burned with diesel oil.

And in the midst of the carnage, Bob actually gave up his life jacket to a wounded man.

Last week, I held the old Annett family photograph in my hands as my Dad sipped his scotch and remembered his last memory of brother Bob.

“He could have spent his embarkation leave in town, whooping it up, or seeing his fiancee Elaine. But instead he drove out to see me, his kid brother, and he roused me out of bed and wrestled with me and cheered me up. He was that kind of a guy”.

I gazed at the snapshot and said,

“From the looks of all of you, it’s like you all knew he was going to die”

Dad nodded, and replied softly, and unashamedly awed,

“And look at his smile”

To those accustomed to the sluggish death we like to call peace time, the highest concern one can bestow on another is the admonition to “Be safe”. Even my closest friends tell me that all the time, as if safeguarding one’s own life is some kind of bottom line. It wasn’t for my Uncle Bob, nor is it for anyone like him who discovers the secret of life.

The same people who puzzle over how Bob is the only one smiling in that final photograph are the same ones who comment with regret that Bob died because he gave away his life jacket, as if it would have been possible for him to do anything else when faced with another man drowning from his wounds.

The desperate selfishness of “everyday” life spares us the chance to be fully human that is thrust so starkly upon on us by war. And so far too many of us go away sad and troubled by the actions of shining lights like my Uncle Bob, never understanding the drama: like the crowd who encountered Jesus on his cross and saw only bloodshed.

How habitually do we struggle to shore up the unsalvageable – our own mortal life – and refuse to live for that one moment when we find our real purpose in life by giving up our life entirely for what is right and necessary.

Perhaps Bob was so radiant in that final family photograph because he knew that his own special moment was approaching; and knowing his own measure and loving what he saw, he knew he would not fail. As for the others in the picture, how could their sadness be anything but their knowledge that they could not share in Bob’s moment?

We do not live in a time of peace, as much as we pretend we do. The war in which we are all now immersed, like all wars, is rapidly clarifying everything with the same simple truth, and choice, given to my Uncle Bob in the cold waters: If we do not act, others will die.

The particular happiness of true warriors is that they can devote every moment to the service of that deed, which is after all, the essential thing. And for those who shrink back from such necessary action, there is no remedy, and no ultimate happiness.

That is why I can’t understand or give consideration any longer to the multitudes of “concerned” but immobilized people who shrink back from doing what is necessary to save not only the lives of children, but our lands and our liberties, now, amidst this final war being waged against humanity by a global machinery of death.

At desperate moments like this, hope does come to us, but always at a great cost.

What does awaken us are living examples of a true man, or woman, who show that we are not measured by our capacity to “Be safe”, but rather, to be True, regardless of the cost.

That is the secret of Bob’s smile, and of my own: a reflection of the special opportunity granted to every human being, which no tyrant can rob from us, and no cataclysm can undo.

Will you seize that noble chance?

………..

Kevin Annett was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 and 2014. His personal website is www.KevinAnnett.com

When Seeing Leads to More than Believing

Posted on May 17, 2012 by itccs

What I held in my hand yesterday caused me to flee from the University of British Columbia library, and seek solace in the deep forest that surrounds the campus where I grew up, and where I have discovered the unimaginable.

It was an unusual reaction, for I had encountered much worse over the years. But after seeing the document, something snapped in me and made nothing else possible than to rush to the woods, fall to the bountiful soil behind a hidden tree tangled in moss, and dig my hands desperately into mother earth and sob like I had not done since I was a child.

I lay there for some time, after the tears were spent, and gradually the quiet bird song and sunlight merged with a perfect aroma I had not breathed for so long: the forest loam itself, and its rich, musky decomposition so alive and sweet.

I hugged the ground and buried my face in our good earth, and felt suddenly that my own corrosion from the long and hard years could be the source of something more than personal agony. For I turned over just then and scribbled on a piece of paper,

My pain and suffering is the nursing log out of which so many and so much will grow.

I lay on my back, wonderfully calm and spent, and looked again at the photocopied document I had unearthed that morning from the government archives in Koerner Library’s microfilm section.

teeth
Extracted teeth

It read,

“Department of Indian Affairs, Dental Report: St. Paul’s Catholic Indian School, Squamish Mission Reservation, May 1924”.

And beneath that title was listed the names of fifty-six children who had had their teeth extracted without painkiller by Dr. E. Fraser Allen of Vancouver.

No anesthesia.

Matilda Miranda was seven years old, and six of her teeth were yanked from her jaw without anesthesia. Theresa George was eight, and five of her teeth were similarly pulled. Leonard Rodrigues, age 10, Ralph Atkins, age nine, Doreen Thomas, age nine: all denied painkiller. Over 80% of the group of fifty-six “students” at St. Paul’s Indian school were tortured thus.

Dr. Allen was paid $20.54 for his efforts, including the cost of $1.50 for his tools and amalgam dressing. It took him about a half hour to yank out all those little teeth, according to the good doctor’s report of May 7, sent to C. C. Perry, the local Indian Agent.

That meant he yanked out a tooth, on average, every ten seconds: non stop.

Harry Wilson never opened his mouth much when he first spoke to me, in the fall of 1997, because his teeth were such a mess.

“Naw, I never go to a dentist” he explained sadly. “They never gave us painkiller at residential school, when they pulled our teeth”.

Harry’s teeth were yanked over forty years after the same torture was performed by Dr. Allen on the St. Paul’s children: a different school, and a Catholic one, but identical to the practice inflicted on Harry at a United Church Indian residential school in Port Alberni in 1967.

Harriett Nahanee had the same story, at the same school in 1946. So did Vera Little, at the Anglican school in Alert Bay in 1953. And the husband of Alia MacKenzie-Point at the Chehalis reservation in 1969.
I can’t hate Dr. Allen, or any of the other specialists who have ripped the teeth and the innocence from children with the full sanction of church and state for so many years. For like you and I, these torturers learned quickly how to numb themselves to the screams and the blood in order to get on with their job.

That struck me with a sudden clarity, alone in the forest, after my own tears had washed away my numbness, and I began, as always, to grapple with how to share this new evidence with the world in a way that would make others do something more than believe that the crimes did happen, and still happen. And yet I knew that, as with all the other evidence of these grisly acts done to aboriginal children, very few people would want to know the horrible truth, let alone dare to do anything about it.

Tempted by the old despair, I stared just then at what I had scribbled moments before: My pain and suffering is the nursing log out of which so many and so much will grow. And then an answer echoed in me, from something Alice Miller had written once:

We can never find empathy for the suffering of others until we have faced and embraced the pain done to ourselves.

I’ve often noticed how the church goers who trudge past our offered leaflets on a Sunday morning bear the same look, when confronted by what their church did, and what their collection money helps to cover up: people who are resigned. Batter someone enough, and they become that way.

We are all so weary of the battering we have each endured since infancy, and yet are so incapable of feeling we can do anything to stop it. Even the very life-giving sky above seems to mock life itself these days, stained by vile chemical trails spewed by corporate and military madmen far beyond our reach. What can even our best integrity and courage do in the face of the enormity of the violence we face?

Torture survivor Harry Wilson (left) and Kevin Annett, 1997, Vancouver
Torture survivor Harry Wilson (left) and Kevin Annett, 1997, Vancouver

Harry Wilson, and his counterparts Matilda and Theresa and all the other helpless little victims, knew the same despair, and some of them found a way to endure. And like Harry, who was able to tell what happened to him, when my own tears freely flowed the other day I found it easier to face the truth and find a light where there shouldn’t have been one. So Alice Miller must be on to something.

When we see our lives and our worlds for what they are, and can say so, we gain a power over what seemed like fate or irresistible injustice: sort of like naming a demon and calling it to leave a possessed soul. That’s the power of knowing our true history, individually and as a whole, and not denying the darkest moments, but describing them out loud, for what they are.

Rising up from the forested earth, I felt like a demon had indeed left me, and a warm surge of love filled me for those long dead and violated Indian children who still wait for justice. That kind of love doesn’t allow apathy or timid excuses: it does not rest until right is done. It was blessing beyond expression that day to feel the old flame arise in me again, born from my own grief, and theirs.

I ran joyfully from the woods on the sunlit path towards the bus stop, armed again with my being and the documented truth in my bag, and I knew that the time to act is always present in us. And from somewhere, the words of Rabbi Hillel sounded then:

If I am not for myself, then who will be?
If I am only for myself, then what am I?
If not now, when?

Investigations of children’s graves continues; Kevin Annett adopted into Mohawk Nation, given name and protection; Excavations spark similar actions in other native nations

Posted on October 09, 2011 by itccs
Brantford, Ontario

dig 4
Test dig in forest near Mohawk Institute residential school

Both pro- and anti-government groups in the Mohawk Nation united this past week to endorse the independent investigation into mass graves of children at the former Mohawk Institute Indian residential school. The inquiry was initiated last April by nine elders of the Wolf and Turtle clans.

Chief Bill Montour of the government-funded Mohawk Band Council said publicly at a council meeting on October 4,

“This dig is long overdue and it’s needed. I back this thing one hundred percent.”

Meanwhile, the Men’s Fire, a traditional group of warriors from all of the Six Nations, arrived at the excavation site the same day to provide security and protection for the inquiry members, especially for Kevin Annett of the ITCCS, who was asked by the Wolf and Turtle elders in writing to organize the inquiry into the missing children of the Brantford school.

As a sign of their support for Kevin Annett and the ITCCS, these elders formally adopted Kevin into the Turtle Clan of the Mohawk (Ongyahonway) Nation at a ceremony on October 6, and gave him the name Rawennatshani, which means “One who warns the people with a strong and wise voice”.

radar
Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey of Mohawk school grounds

The inquiry into the fate of many hundreds of missing children at the school continued this week, through Ground Penetrating Radar surveys that revealed that graves of children on school grounds were buried under tons of soil; and that suspected grave sites extend into the wooded perimeter of the former school, which was founded by the Crown and Church of England in 1832.

“We’re looking at a massive investigation into an enormous crime site, but at least it’s begun” commented Kevin Annett today.

“We hope to have a preliminary report issued before the new year once we have samples and other evidence analyzed forensically. We’ve already assembled an archaeological team to do a professional study of what’s being uncovered.”

Earlier this week, traditional Mohawk elders announced that they were imposing their own jurisdiction over the graves of residential school children, and declared that the government of Canada, its police and courts had no authority to intervene into their investigation.

Elsewhere in Canada, groups among the Maliseet, Anishnabe and Sovereign ©Skwxwú7mesh-Squamish™ indigenous nations announced this week their intent to launch their own digs and inquiries at suspected mass grave sites at former residential schools on their territories, independently of the government’s stage-managed “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

“The Mohawks have inspired all of us” said Jeremiah Jourdain of the Anishnabe nation in Winnipeg today.

“Now we have to spread this movement to bring the children home on our terms – and prosecute those who killed them.”

Nearly half of all Canadian Indian residential school students – more than 50,000 children – died or went missing between 1832 and 1996, when the last school closed.

A You Tube presentation of these events will be forthcoming this week. Images follow.

For updates on the Mohawk digs and more information, see www.itccs.org and contact Kevin Annett at hiddenfromhistory1@gmail.com. The Nine Elders can be contacted through Bill Squire at 519-757-3624.

Issued by ITCCS International Office, Brussels
9 October, 2011

Kevin and Geronimo Henry
Mohawk school survivor Geronimo Henry, left, speaks with Kevin Annett

Mohawk adption
Kevin Annett, left, welcomed by Mohawk elder Yvonne Hill in 2010