Why two kids to a grave doesn’t matter: More than innocence is buried
To have come so far, and suffered so much, to finally hold the reason for it all in my hand.
The truth has become as immediately hard and real as these brown bone shards themselves, from a hip, a leg, a spine: one from a small child, other bones being once part of a young boy or girl in their teens. Although I more than any of my people knew the truth of what those fragments represent, still, it was not quite real to me over the years that I wrote and spoke and protested about the missing and slaughtered children. Somewhere in me I still hoped that it was not true at all. But no longer.
It is undeniable to me now, and from my firm knowing the whole world will come to know.
And it all begins, always, like this: as a single collision of raw bones on flesh, like a light rippling outwards to burst open all the hidden places, and graves.
On November 28, an archaeologist confirmed that it was the bones of children that we had unearthed during the previous week.
I first stood over the mass graves of children at Canada’s oldest Christian internment camp – our people like to call them “Indian residential schools” – four years ago, during a lecture tour to Brantford, Ontario. This past month, I have been part of the team there that for the first time in our history has unearthed the bones of children killed in the name of Christ by churches that are still above the law.
I am working with the Onkwehonwe people, called Mohawks, who have never signed a treaty with Canada or surrendered their nationhood – but whose children were carted off at gun point to die en masse at the Church of England’s “Mohawk Institute”, called the Mush Hole by survivors. On November 21, the dead began to come home.
After offering words of prayer in Mohawk that morning, our team had just broken the soil in the woods fifty yards from the former “school” when the first bones appeared, not even two feet under the ground. We all stopped our digging, as what turned out to be part of the thigh bone of a small child was carefully brushed clean, photographed, and lifted gently from the earth. Alongside it rested other bone fragments, from a wrist, and a spine, small and fragile, along with a horde of small ivory buttons, bits of children’s shoes, and everywhere, mounds of charcoal.
“Why all the charcoal?” someone asked.
“They burned the bodies in the school furnace” replied a survivor who had gone there.
Further examination of the bones showed that several of them had been cut long ways with a sharp device. The chopped up little bodies, along with the ashes and charcoal that had incinerated them, were obviously dumped in the woods from somewhere else, for they all lay close to the surface.
I didn’t sleep that night, or very much during that first week of our excavations, for the complete indifference of Canadian media and the public to our horrible discovery was weighing on me. This matter of fact attitude to genocide in our midst was summed up for me by a letter from 1948, written by the Mush Hole Principal and Anglican clergyman Zimmerman to his predecessor, in which he blithely commented,
“Due to austerity measures, we are burying children two to a grave.”
Zimmerman never had to explain why so many children were dying in his prison, any more than he was ever tried for his serial raping of the kids who did survive – and for the same reason that the Anglican church will never be asked in Parliament, or in Canadian editorial pages, why its employees were cutting up the remains of dead Mohawk children and scattering the bits in mass graves.
The other side’s casualties in war are never worth mentioning, because they don’t matter.
Auschwitz was a relocation center, not a death camp; its inmates were sanitized, not gassed; and the millions of brown skinned people on this continent were civilized and assimilated by us, not murdered. That’s the way the Master Race fable goes, and Canada is the stuff of Imperial myth that endures on the bones and ashes I handled this week, even when the body parts are finally brought to light.
Not just the innocent, but we ourselves were buried in mounds like those surrounding the Mush Hole, for our capacity to understand ourselves is still as interred as the remaining hordes of children who will never be known, or given a proper burial.
We don’t understand, for instance, that the children whose remains I held today were victims of the longest war in history – Christianity and its offshoot societies versus the indigenous nations – and the latter’s extermination rate of roughly 90% across this continent was the worst massacre in human history.
They didn’t die from what Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan absurdly calls “an education policy gone wrong”, for children at the Mush Hole never received much formal education. They were targeted for eradication, one way or another, in the Just War of Civilization against Savagery: and their death was therefore not a crime, or a moral wrong, which is why so few Canadians, regardless of their politics, contacted us after we broadcast the truth about those little human bones at the Mush Hole.
Why should we care, after all? The gradual extinction of “lesser” peoples by our system is an imperative, even a religious commandment, in our culture. Genocide has not only been an accepted and lawful tool of state, and religion, but it is even seen as a law of nature by our people.
Take Charles Darwin, for instance, who like all educated European Christians, looked to the extermination of other races as the precursor to any progress. In The Descent of Man, published a year before Canada’s Indian Act was created in 1872, he wrote,
“At some future period not very distant as measured in centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.”
Last year, Prime Minister Harper made reference to the “inevitable adaptation” of native people in Canada to the status quo. Pick your euphemism. The message is the same: Adapt, or die.
It’s been a nearly twenty year journey for me to come to the Mush Hole grounds and its scattered bones of our victims – and to the point where I have shed any illusion that uncovering this crime will change the Thing that caused it. Not a single reporter came to our press conference that announced our findings, or quoted our historic discovery. And no Anglican official will go to jail for what happened to the Mohawk children.
And, perhaps more to the point, you, the reader, will soon turn to another item in this newspaper, and move on.
It’s said that we owe respect to the living, but to the dead, we owe only the truth. But I say something more. To the future generations, we owe justice: and a world free of child killers hiding behind religion – a world, in truth, which can only manifest from somewhere other than ourselves.
Post script: After the Opening, the Dead Remain
Over the long years, there was a single hope that made each new defeat and betrayal possible for me to bear – a single refrain, echoed by me and those few who chose to care, and that was: “Once we open those children’s graves, the world will have to notice, and finally care”.
And now, we have opened the graves, and proved they hold the remains of children. We broadcast it to the world yesterday. And today, no-one called.
I misunderstood something about my people, by thinking the dead matter to them.
I knew already that the fate of children is of no concern to us, drenched as we are in the fear and loathing of our own innocence. But even more basic, the dead are nothing to us because they represent the past. For what possible connection can there be, asks the proud, momentary leaf, between me and the root that spawned the tree?
My ancestors came to this continent to escape history, which meant to try to flee from ourselves. And in so doing, we ended up a people without memory.
I stood yesterday in front of a crowd of very young “radicals” at the Occupy Toronto camp on the grounds of the city hall where exactly twenty years ago, I spent my late nights as a street chaplain bringing coffee and my own illusions to the heaps of dying men and women who slept in their dozens on the hot air grates there. Ironically, the Occupiers spoke that day of exhibiting “solidarity” towards those now dead Indians who once slept where they now rallied with the proud assurance of those who know they have the answer to it all. So I took the Occupiers at their word, and I held up to them a piece of a child’s leg bone.
I explained where it had come from, and how Anglican Christians had raped and slaughtered this child, then chopped her or him up into bloody bits and tossed their bones in a ditch. I asked them to help us bring this crime to light, and stop those responsible.
The radicals stared at me, unmoved. A few of them blinked uncomprehendingly. Nobody applauded, or came up to me afterwards … no, actually, one of them did, to remark gloomily,
“That really messed with my head …”
I don’t blame them. They’re the fruit of amnesia. They don’t know what to do with their past, or its present outcome, because, quite simply, it’s all too horrible.
After this non-response in Toronto, I returned to the Mohawks, who are in no better shape, basically, except that they are not total strangers to their root, and so are not yet entirely crazy. But they seemed to avoid the dead just as much that night, in their own way, and turned to their own laughter and busyness rather than gaze out the Kanata Centre window, as I did, at the single mass grave that is this land.
“Lighten up, Kev” one of them offered to me, and perhaps I should have, if I could somehow forget the unendurable weight of that tiny piece of bone in my hand.
I’m sure I will, someday, once my efforts have slammed enough times against the fact that the Greeks called nihilio, the great Nothing. For to quote a battle-wisened soldier in The Thin Red Line,
“They want you either dead, or in their lie.”
Which one will it be for you, now that you know?