Fwd: Re: The Churches and Abuse of Indian Children

Roland Chrisjohn, Ph. D. rchrisjo at SPAMStThomasU.ca
Wed Jun 21 05:19:26 MDT 2000

Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2000 23:05:51 -0300
To: Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com>
From: "Roland Chrisjohn, Ph. D." <rchrisjo at StThomasU.ca>
Subject: Re: The Churches and  Abuse of Indian Children
Well, I'm sitting here in my office trying to go home to eat, but also trying to
answer e-mails personally attacking my for my stand on residential schools (and
answer in such a way as to not offend the people who seem intent on offending
me; these are Indians, too, after all).  Anyhow, I wrote Lou a while back that I
was working on an update for this list on the situation as it's developing here,
and now Tony posts another of what is becoming a barrage of articles in recent
days.  So I'll eat a candy bar, stay a while longer, and put down the word or
two Lou requests.  (I hope Jim will do the same.)  Please excuse me if this
isn't as polished as we'd all like it to be.
Earlier this year there were reports that both the Anglican and Catholic
churches were involved in some kind of organizational restructuring in an effort
to limit their financial liabilities around the residential school issue
(something of the nature of Dow Corning's restructuring to limit women in the
breast implant fiasco to their suing a bankrupt company).  Characteristically,
although those meetings were held in Toronto, no indigenous organizations
bothered to confront the absurdity of supposedly "moral" institutions sitting
around and calculating how to cover their organizational/financial asses.  Back
in the 1980's the federal government and the churches realized the potential
damage (financial, legal, and moral) that was brewing under the lid of
residential schools and concocted a public-relations spin that it was "a mistake"
and that Indians needed "therapy" for the "residential school syndrome" they
acquired from being forced to attend these schools (the Royal Commission on
Aboriginal Peoples uncovered the correspondence demonstrating this but "chose"
not to publish this.  This was at about the same time they "chose" not to
publish my report, commissioned by them, that denied that mistakes and
psychopathology had anything to do with the issue, but that genocide [Article
IIe of the UN Genocide Convention specifically names forced removal of children
from their parents and their placement under the control of others as an Act of
Genocide] did).  Since then, a major Canadian industry has grown up around "treating
the sick Indians," and while most of the money put into this system goes from
one non-indigenous hand to another, enough Indian "leaders" make big enough
money (above and under the table; kickbacks for favorable reception of "healing
fund" grant applications is a popular method) that they don't make any trouble. 
And, since they're usually running the supposed aboriginal peoples advocacy
organizations, those organizations have a major incentive to avoid making waves.
Then while chugging along the road one morning listening to the news, an
interview with a high muckety-muck of the United Church revealed that (1) there
was to be a general meeting of United Church High Muckety-Mucks in Fredericton
in May and (2) residential schooling was to be high on their lists of things to
deal with.  Toronto is 1000+ miles and an $900 flight away, while the UC meeting
was going to be held on our campus a mere rifle-shot from my office window. 
This I could not ignore.
I got hold of Jim Craven and asked if he could attend and suggest someone from
Port Alberni, BC, to join in.  My suspicion about the UC meeting in Fredericton
was that Fredericton is probably the furthest semi-direct flight in Canada away
from Port Alberni, where hundreds of cases of murder, rape, abortion,
intimidation, etc., carried out by the United Church, were documented during the
Genocide Tribunal Jim had participated in back in 1998.  Obviously, the church
had overlooked the relevance of the testimony of Port Albernians to their
consideration of their responsibilities concerning residential schooling, and I
hoped to surprise them.  My colleague, Andrea Bear Nicholas, and I quickly put
together a one-day mini-conference, with Jim, me, Amy Tallio (Port Alberni), and
Isabell Knockwood (author of "Out of the Depths," one of the better
autobiographies dealing with Indian Residential School) as speakers, to be held
the day before the United Church conference began.  Some of our better students,
Tanya, Pierre (host of the Revolutionary Action Dance Party on Canadian
University Radio), Andrea, Marc, and Lisa organized information brochures,
videotaping, audiotaping, and public relations.  We invited the United Church to
attend (they sent two official folks, although others may have been skulking
about) and accepted that, like it or not, some of us would be attending theirs.
Our conference was a success.  Pierre is editing the tapes now, and if any of
you would like to hear what we said and was said to us, they should be available
at cost by the end of the summer.  Or you can borrow one, copy it yourself, and
send it back.
Their conference was another story.  I'll let Jim fill in details if he's so
inclined, since I didn't attend much of it, and that which I did I found utterly
useless and infuriating.  The United Church prefer to "smooth us out" rather
than deal with the fact that they committed genocide; handing money over to "therapists"
in the name of curing us of our disease does nothing to address that fundamental
In the week following our conference I was interviewed three times; first by the
Anglican Journal (the official "organ" of the Anglicans, which had run an
extensive but disingenuous article as an insert in May, 2000, on the Anglican
Church and residential schools), then by the St. John (New Brunswick) Telegraph
Journal, and then by the Ottawa Citizen.  All wanted to know my reactions to
stories that hadn't yet been published; first, what did I think of the letter
from the Anglican Primate, read to parishioners in church, that the church could
be bankrupt by next year? second, what did I think of a South Africa-style "truth
and reconciliation" commission to deal with residential school issues, instead
of litigation? and third, what did I think of the collective request of the
churches, made to the federal government, that the feds set limits on church
liability and help "pay the awards?"
While this was happening, I was also receiving a flurry of related news reports. 
First, it was reported that the churches involved in residential schooling had
hired a high-powered (and therefore expensive) PR firm to lobby federal MP's to
set liability limits and/or contribute to pay-outs.  Then the United Church
denied that it was involved in the PR effort.  Then the Anglican were reported
to be strong-arming parishioners with federal connections to bring what pressure
they could to get the government to intervene on their behalf.  Then the
Minister of Justice said the government wouldn't consider such a thing. Then a
provincial judge in Alberta ruled that Indians couldn't sue the government or
the churches for genocide, since it wasn't prohibited by the Canadian Criminal
Code.  Then the federal cabinet was said to be considering a "truth and
reconciliation commission" "as an option to rein in [my emphases] the increasing
number of related lawsuits now threatening the churches with financial ruin." 
The cabinet was considering a structure that "would not assign blame, charges or
financial compensation, but would allow victims to learn the truth or confront
abusers."  Then, on Friday, June 16, the Globe and Mail's headline was "Ottawa
Studies Church Bailout."  Tonight, I read: "Aboriginal Survivors of Residential
School Initiate Class Action," reporting a multi-billion dollar suit being
brought by the Toronto firm, Thomson Rogers.  And Tony's posting nails the
coffin shut.
What to make of all this?  Well, I've written a book on what I make of all of
this, and most of it is available on line under "online documents" at
http://www.treay7.org. I can't summarize a 300+ page book here, or I would have
written a much shorter one initially.  But I think I can comment on the totality
of what the hell is going on.
1.  A situation this absurd-looking can't be absurd at heart.  The absurdity:
the churches, which were the factotums of genocide, are asking the federal
government, which instigated the genocide the churches helped carry out, to
provide them immunity and/or financial assistance in obviating the consequences
of their actions.  Again, these are the same churches that every Sunday presume
to lecture the Canadian public about morality and ethics.  This is like the
guards at Auschwitz asking a surviving Hitler and company, after the war, to get
these Damned Jews off their backs.  Oddly enough, Hitler is actually considering
2.  Something I didn't mention in the litany of news reports given above is that
the churches at least (and probably the government, too, although there are no
reports about it) are regularly polling the Canadian public to get their
reactions to the "trial balloons" they are sending up.  The most recently
reported consensus is that Mr. and Ms. Average Canadian think (1) the Skins
should receive some kind of compensation for what happened to them in
residential schools, but (2) the churches shouldn't be forced to go bankrupt
over it.  Of course, since Mr. and Ms. Average Canadian don't realize they're
talking about genocide (I have a whole separate spiel on the gyrations of
keeping the word "genocide" from every being attached to an indigenous issue),
they don't realize that their governments and their churches made them complicit
in genocide by default; just have a look at the Genocide Convention, Article
III.  This is akin to Hitler's government polling the complicit German
population after WWII as a prelude to doing something, or not, to get the Damned
Jews off the backs of the Auschwitz guards.
3.  A friend and associate wrote me when the story broke about the money the
churches were putting into lobbying.  He considered it shameless, but didn't
think much would come of it, since Parliament is about to adjourn for the
summer, and since it's beginning to look like there might be a federal election
this fall.  All in all, I can't agree.  First, a huge chunk of Canadian law
isn't run through Parliament at all, but is done by Orders-in-Council, or
cabinet documents, which are essentially legal decrees (Canadians are largely
unaware that their system isn't even a pretend democracy).  Federal governments
typically pass outrageous measures (like cutting the welfare payments by half,
doubling the work time needed to qualify for them, and halving the length of
time they can operate) by such Orders, and generally during the summer when Mr.
and Ms. Average Canadian is driving around and swatting mosquitoes.  Nobody
realizes what happened until September.  Second, the residential school fuss is
exactly the sort of sqwak the Liberals would rather have settled before they
called an election.  If churches are being buried while the Liberals are trying
to tell everyone how good life is under them, someone will notice and blame
whoever is in power, regardless of how complicit everyone and every party has
been in creating the situation.  Third, the Liberals can count on their
imposition of a settlement not becoming an election issues, since the
Reform/Alliance party's official position is to eliminate Indians altogether,
the Bloc (Quebec nationalists) agree (Quebec has no real claim to any of the
land it intends to secede with from Canada), and the NDP's official position is
that Indians are indeed sick.  It seems to me that all these proposals and the
polling that is coming along with them is designed to establish what the feds
can get away with and how many voting Canadians it will eventually piss off
(few, all too few).  I predicted last week (on a special edition of the
Revolutionary Action Dance Party) that this summer would bring the Genociders
absolving themselves of their crimes.  Let's see if I'm right.
4.  But, to take one big step backwards, all this was beside the point,
predictable, and inevitable.  It was also something that never should have
happened, even given the operation of the residential schools.  It's been more
than a decade now that I've been telling the churches and the government that
this was going to happen, that I didn't think it was a good thing (although the
thought of all the churches going bankrupt does have a certain pleasant cachet),
and that they had to take things in an entirely different direction.  It's all
in my book.  And while I have no proof, I suspect the government's "secret
strategy," hatched as a result of a memo leaked by the Canadian Press in 1998,
had the (small) noise I was making back in 1994 when it resolved to stonewall. 
Well, the chickens are coming home to roost.
5.  I don't want to repeat the analyses I presented in my book, but simply, when
GENOCIDE is the operative term, instead of "honest mistakes," the entire
reaction of the government, the churches, and the Canadian population as a whole
is called into question.  I'm against litigation, and not because people didn't
suffer injuries they deserved to be compensated for (in fact, people who can
make such cases should sue).  I'm against it because (1) I knew that it was
impossible to successfully bring a charge of genocide in a Canadian court;
Canada machinated its way out of that in the 50's and 60's; (2) the Jews didn't
have to look for justice from a Nazi court.  That fact that they didn't really
receive it from an international one, either, doesn't obviate the fact that at
least there was a recognition of the insult it would have been to require them
to do so.  The court the residential school survivors are petitioning is the
court that sat for 119 years without finding any problems with residential
schools; (3) in court, the litigants have to establish, one by one, that
GENOCIDE WAS BAD FOR THEM.  The counter argument, of course, is that genocide
was good for them.  If I hear one more time that "Well, at least Indians learned
to read and write in the Residential Schools," as an argument, I will explode. 
"Well, at least the Jew that survived lost weight and learned an interesting
vocational skill" was NOT an argument heard at Nuremberg; (4) Thomson Rogers are
not indigenous peoples, nor any of the law firms bringing the suits.  This means
a sizable portion of the settlements, when and if they're reached, will
disappear back into the monied/propertied class that rules Canada; (5) the
particularization and individuation of the injury and the redress via the court
system is, in grand scale and in detail, the ideological system the residential
school was intended to impose on us.  Thus, to "undo" the injury of residential
schooling, we have to operate as if it successfully wiped clean our own
ideologies; (6) litigation creates and maintains the fiction that the "injury"
of residential school was the "injury" it inflicted on attendees, thus dividing
indigenous peoples one from another (those that attended vs. those that did
not).  This ignores the fact that the injury was done to all of us, whether or
not we attended, by virtue of the destructive impact it has had on our forms of
life.  The "undoing" is not just the repair of isolated individuals who can
recount specific abuses, but must include the undoing of the merest fragment of
harm it did to our forms of life.  All this is ignored in engaging in the
recounting specific horror stories.  I've actually have residential school
attendees tell me they were among the "lucky one" who weren't sexually or
physically abused.  But if Ann Frank not been discovered, and had lived four
years in the walls of the safe house, wouldn't it be odd to talk about her as a
"lucky one?"  True, she wouldn't have been rounded up and gassed, but life in a
crawl space warrants some kind of condemnation, don't you think?
There's more.  But it's 11:00pm and I'm out of change.  If anyone thinks I've
left something out, I'll come back to this tomorrow (hell, I'll probably see
gaping holes myself).  And maybe Jim will take a turn.  Taken as a whole, I can
see nothing good coming of this.
Roland Chrisjohn

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