by Kevin D. Annett
It’s all about the Real Estate, Mate: What they didn’t teach me in Sunday School
“I have secured the land and arrested the pagans.”- Missionary and land speculator John Ross, Ahousaht, British Columbia, October 1, 1903
“We can’t have Kevin Annett upset the applecart over the Ahousaht land deal” – John Cashore, British Columbia NDP Environment Minister and United Church clergyman, November 5, 1994, just prior to Kevin’s firing without cause from St. Andrew’s United Church
“I regret to inform you that the internal disciplinary procedures of the United Church fall outside the jurisdiction of my department … I cannot intervene in the church’s actions against Reverend Annett” - Ujjal Dosanjh, British Columbia Attorney General and cabinet colleague of Cashore, May 14, 1997
“Come now Kevin; you don’t really believe there’s a separation of church and state in this country, do you?” - Provincial Conflict of Interest Commissioner H.D. Oliver, June 4, 1997
A decade before he learned to despise and fear me, John Cashore was the first person to congratulate me on my maiden homily at Vancouver’s First United Church, where he was the minister in 1986.
“If all your sermons are that good Kevin, you’ll have an outstanding career in the United Church!” he effused as he pumped my hand on that memorably ironic Sunday in October.
John lived to regret his remark.
Alas, my anticipated career as a professional God Talker never came off, but I did learn how to give dirty politicians like John Cashore many sleepless nights. John’s particular insomnia was caused in the summer of 1994 when I surfaced a lucrative inside deal he had cooked up as an NDP provincial government minister to profit his corporate backer Weyerhauser and protect his own United Church of Canada from a potentially disastrous scandal.
It was all about old growth cedar trees, and the little brown human remains they concealed.
In 1903 a man very much like John Cashore had arrived on the stormy coastline of what we call Vancouver Island that was the ancestral homeland of the Ahousaht indigenous people. The man’s name was John Ross, and as a Presbyterian missionary he was also given by “the Crown” the power of a cop, a judge and an Indian Agent. As such, John set up what became the United Church’s Ahousaht “Indian residential school” where over half the local Ahousaht children died. The zealous John Ross systematically arrested any Ahousaht who wouldn’t incarcerate their children in the death trap called a school. And in the process, he also stole nearly half of the Ahousaht’s land.
John’s multiple role as priest, child trafficker, land grabber and magistrate wasn’t all that unusual when one considers that his Presbyterian church and its descendent, the United Church of Canada, were conferred with the legal power of a bank and land broker by the merry old Crown of England. After all, how else do Civilized Christians ensure that all those big trees and fishing grounds end up in the right hands?
John Ross was an efficient multi-tasker. Within a few months the formerly independent Ahousahts had been corralled into church and residential school and their traditional chiefs locked up by Ross and his band of “special” Indian constables. And not coincidentally, the richest Ahousaht land and its lucrative old growth cedars was also brought into the fold of what became the United Church of Canada.
Worse the luck for John Ross, he had to hurriedly vacate the premises one spring day in 1909 when he was implicated in the death of a child at the residential school: one Carrie George, age eight, who was the only daughter of his chief adversary, the traditional Siem Maquinna George. But Ross’ legacy remained. In 1952 the United Church began selling off the stolen Ahousaht land to their various financial backers, including the logging company MacMillan-Bloedel. And in 1994 the latter signed away the Ahousaht land to the biggest lumber multinational in the world, the American company Weyerhauser Ltd., after my old fan John Cashore secretly set up the whole deal through his new cabinet position as the provincial Environment minister.
Naturally, the Ahousahts never got a penny from the deal. John Cashore profited, however, courtesy of Weyerhauser, as did his own United Church of Canada, whose history as the original land grabber in Ahousaht was carefully shielded from public scrutiny by Cashore through his governmental office.
End of story? Uh uh. Enter stage left yours truly, who stumbled my way into the whole sordid mess in October of 1994 after learning about it from one of Chief Maquinna’s descendents, one Earl George, an Ahousaht elder who frequented my Port Alberni United Church.
Well wait just a darn minute! I exclaimed in an imprudent letter to my United Church bosses in Toronto after getting the low down from Earl, including how the church had made big bucks off the Ahousaht deal. We’re not supposed to profit off stolen native land! It even says so in our church policy manual!
Ah, the naivety of youth.
John Cashore’s personal role in tossing me from my pulpit and eventually from my livelihood and family surfaced in the year following my unceremonious cashiering out of the United Church of Canada. As co-conspirators tend to do under pressure, one of the Presbytery church officers who’d arranged my firing, one Win Stokes, spilled the beans at the United Church kangaroo court “de-listing hearing” that robbed me of my profession.
Under cross-examination and obviously in an effort to cover his own ass and shift the blame, Stokes blurted out that John Cashore had insisted on my expulsion after saying to him that “We can’t have Kevin Annett upset the applecart over the Ahousaht land deal”. Stokes admitted that Cashore had also made sure that Ahousaht elder Earl George never completed his training for United Church ministry.
Business as usual in the Great White North, of course. But none of it sat right with me, having still not awoken to the way things are. And so soon after my expulsion from the church I diligently sought out one H.D. Oliver, a retired provincial court judge who had been dubbed the Commissioner to investigate charges of “conflict of interest” by British Columbia politicians. And so in earnest I brought to him the case that John Cashore had used his public office to profit and protect his buddies in the church.
I could have guessed what the obese Mr. Oliver would say the moment I was ushered into his august presence in a downtown Vancouver board room. He listened with an amused smirk as I laid out the facts to him. He only interrupted me once, to comment that he too was a United Church member. But seeing that I still didn’t get it, Oliver finally sat back after I was done and said to me with that same wry insider’s grin,
“Come now Kevin; you don’t really believe there’s a separation of church and state in this country, do you?”
And as for the Ahousaht people: no, they never did get their land back, and most of them never saw a penny from all the mega profits squeezed out of all those slaughtered cedar trees. But their Around the Fort suck hole chiefs sure did: guys like Cliff Atleo, father of the future Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Sean “Tonto” Atleo, who made a bundle through his own logging company called Ilsaak Limited that wiped out the last old growth trees on Ahousaht land.
I hear that John Cashore still turns a funny shade of green whenever my name is mentioned. But hell: that’s the price of civilization.