Emboldened Survivors Confront Clergy and Churchgoers in Vancouver Mon Jan 14, 2008 3:42 pm (PST)
Evening of Sunday, January 13, 2008: A front line report from Unceded Coast Salish Territory ("Vancouver, Canada") ... and other news
A crowd of nearly one hundred people besieged the front entrance of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Vancouver this morning, chanting "Where are the Children?!" as residential school survivor Rick Lavallee handed a Letter of Demand to a priest after the intended-recipient, Archbishop Raymond Roussin, quickly left town for Mexico.
The Letter, addressed to Roussin, calls on him and the Catholic leaders to disclose the buried location of all the children who died or disappeared in Catholic residential schools. When Rick and other survivors found that Roussin had scurried away, a copy of the Letter was tacked to the front door of the church, and also handed to priest and church rector Glenn Dion.
The event drew a huge media crowd, including every major TV, newspaper and radio in Vancouver, and was even publicized as the main story on the noon hour CBC radio broadcast the previous day.
"This has never happened before" commented rally organizer Kevin Annett. "We've finally broken into the mainstream. It's an indication of how quickly their whole house of cards is collapsing".
As the crowd surged up onto the top stairs of the ornate gothic church, speakers like traditional Squamish Chief Gerry Capilano castigated the Catholic church for killing and then concealing the remains of countless aboriginal children.
"I am calling on all the elders to join with us in bringing the children home" yelled Rita, a residential school survivor from Saskatchewan. "I know of a big grave of children next to the school I attended. It's time we know what happened to all of those kids."
The presence of so many reporters emboldened the residential school survivors who were present, and encouraged them to speak out, and confront priest Dion and churchgoers.
"I'm sure glad there's press people here today, 'cause last time these Christians nearly killed us when we protested here. One woman spat in my face. Another guy tried to hit me" said Rick Lavallee, after he handed priest Dion the Letter of Demand.
Dion dismissed the claim of dead residential school children outright, smiling as he said to Rick,
"You people are just exaggerating. No children died in our schools."
Dion's careless remark indicates the growing divergence between the positions of the churches and the government of Canada concerning the deaths of more than 50,000 aboriginal children in the residential schools.
On January 1, the government's "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" (TRC) head, Bob Watts, stated that criminal acts had gone on in the schools, accounting for the deaths of "unknown" numbers of children. Yet the Catholic, Anglican and United Church continue to claim that no evidence exists for these deaths, despite documentation uncovered by the TRC, and the growing numbers of native eyewitnesses who claim that homicide and mass graves were common in the residential schools.
"Their backs are to the wall now" commented one reporter about these churches. "They're just playing the denial game, hoping the government will bail them out again."
Yet pressure will be mounting on the Canadian government in the coming months to do exactly the opposite. Just hours after the church protest, Kevin Annett issued a press release that announced that a national press conference will be held at the Prime Minister's Office in Ottawa, on February 4, because of the refusal of the Catholic church to take the survivors' demands seriously.
"We're sick and tired of these churches getting away with murder" said Annett. "It's time Ottawa stopped protecting these wolves in sheeps' clothing, and hold them, and themselves, accountable for genocide."
For the participants of today's rally, just confronting the church without fear was enough of a victory.
"It made me happy for the first time in a long time, you know?" said an older survivor from the downtown eastside. "Did you see the way even the cops stood back and didn't stop us? I didn't get scared when I saw them show up. Not even that f ... ing priest scared me. I guess being here all together like this was like, the start of our healing."
And in other news:
United Church Boycotted
Two community groups in Guelph, Ontario have cancelled their rental of space in the local United Church because of that church's refusal to return the remains of children who died in their residential schools.
"I wasn't aware of the boycott called against this church by residential school survivors last year, but now that we know we have to be consistent with our values so we've found other premises for our event" declared Matt, one of the organizers who heeded the call for the boycott of church facilites.
May others follow their good example!
Zapatistas endorse Inquiry into Genocide in Canada
At a regional conference of more than 1,200 indigenous activists in Chipas, Mexico in the fall of 2007, organized by the Zapatista movement (EZLN), a motion was passed to endorse the efforts of the non-governmental Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada to hold an international inquiry into genocide in church-run Indian Residential Schools.
EZLN spokespeople declared their solidarity with Kevin Annett and the Truth Commission and offered to supply international observers at any independent inquiry held in Canada.
The EZLN statement follows on similar declarations by native groups and autonomous governments in Guatemala and the Philippines, which call on the United Nations to investigate Canada and its churches for crimes of genocide against native people.
For more information on the independent Truth Commission: www.hiddenfromhistory.org