By Kevin D. Annett
Ricky Lavallie is dead.
He was a 51 year old native man, and was the sole witness to the murder by three Vancouver policemen of another key aboriginal activist in our network, Johnny Bingo Dawson.
The sudden death of Ricky Lavallie on January 3 has wiped out the last of my original core supporters among urban native people in Vancouver and Winnipeg. Our original nucleus of the Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared (FRD) has been extinguished.
In barely two years, all of our strongest activists, and those who forced the missing residential schools children into national and world consciousness, have died: Chief Louis Daniels, Elder Phillipa Ryan, Johnny Bingo Dawson, William Combes, Harry Wilson, and now Ricky Lavallie.
These deaths follow on the earlier, equally sudden demise of key eyewitnesses to murders in Indian residential schools: Archie Frank, Willie Sport, Joe Sylvester, Virginia Baptiste, Nora Bernard, and Harriet Nahanee.
These witnesses, and the dead native leaders of our FRD, were instrumental in publicly naming the churches and government of Canada as being guilty of crimes against humanity. And they have all paid the ultimate price for doing so.
I charge these religious and state organizations with their murders.
I charge the E Division of the RCMP with complicity in these deaths, along with the head officers of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Church of Canada, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In the case of Ricky Lavallie, I charge the Vancouver Police Department with complicity in his death. For I have two separate videotaped testimonies of Ricky from last August, in which he states that a Vancouver police sergeant threatened him with imprisonment and death if he continued to speak about his witnessing of the deadly beating of Bingo Dawson by the same sergeant and two other Vancouver cops on December 6, 2009.
I have written the following obituary and tribute to my friend Ricky, for his steadfast courage and devotion to the missing children. I hope and pray, as always, that some of the spirit of such a brave soul will pass into us, and help us all awaken from complicity.
Let us see and name the murders still happening, and bring down those responsible.
Otherwise, how are we any better than they are?
Ricky Lavallie: May 20, 1960- January 3, 2012
His tears flowed so easily whenever he remembered how his five year old brother was killed by a catholic priest bearing an electric cattle prod at the Portage la Prairie residential school in 1968. He carried the terror of that day with him at every moment, for he refused to numbly forget. But nevertheless, Ricky Lavallie was always at my side at every rally and vigil outside churches across Vancouver, and he never wavered.
I lost more than a friend in Ricky, but a brother warrior: one who could have created the usual excuses of most people to stay away from all of our righteous confrontations with cops and priests down the years, as we battled impossibly for disclosure and justice. Rick more than anyone had enough cause to hide, but he never did.
I once marched with Ricky and only eight other people down one of Vancouver’s busiest streets during rush hour traffic, bearing the banner that he clung to like his memories: “All the Children Need a Proper Burial”.
As passersby gawked at our little army, and cars lurched to a stop to let us pass, I turned to Ricky and said,
“How are we doing, Rick?”
He smiled, which was rare, and shouted cheerfully,
“We’re doing great!”
Ricky was the one who walked with me to the front of a church sanctuary during a busy mass, as we occupied the main catholic cathedral in Vancouver on Palm Sunday in 2007. I recall how he gazed solidly at the priest who was berating and threatening us, and said quietly to the red faced idiot,
“When are you gonna give me back my brother’s body?”
Before we were banned from the airwaves of the former “Vancouver Co-op Radio” – now a muzzled subsidiary of the corporate Pattison Media Group – Ricky regularly regaled our listeners with life on the streets, his time in the death camp called residential school, and with his latest song, strummed out on a three strong guitar we kept lying around the studio. But his best moments were with his fellow survivors of church torture, when they faltered on the air and broke down in the flood of dark remembrances that he carried and endured so nobly.
“That’s okay, we’ll get those bastards” he’d say softly to a man or woman amidst their sobs, placing a large and tender arm around them. And then he’d shout into the microphone,
“Screw those churches!”
We did get those bastards, again and again, and Ricky showed me in the flesh how and why his kind are inheriting the earth. He was the kind of man who no bribe and no threat could stop: and so, even now, he hasn’t been stopped.
Ricky’s great joy, of course, was that he was a central character in our documentary film Unrepentant. Just to know that his story and that of his brother were now known to millions of people around the world seemed to make up for all that he had lost. Whenever he saw me on the grimy streets of East Hastings he’d lumber over to me and ask for another few copies of our film.
“They can’t ignore us anymore, right?” he’d exclaim.
The last time I ever saw Ricky was in October, during the Occupy Vancouver encampment. My friend spent his days there leafleting mostly indifferent occupiers about the residential schools genocide, and he never stopped talking about his murdered brother to anyone who would listen.
From there, one day, he led a dozen people on a Sunday morning to the same cathedral he had helped occupy that bright Sunday in 2007, and he stood almost alone in the face of dozens of burly Knights of Columbus and the usual brutal phalanx of cops who try so pathetically to guard the church from Judgement.
Ricky Lavallie left the world in such a spirit, as he had lived: resolute and unbroken and truthful, despite his scars, and his deep fears.
It’s never enough to write about another fallen hero, or to remember him, or even to continue on in the sacred work he died for. The long sadness, the lengthening shadow of aloneness among we fewer and fewer veterans of this campaign, is never lessened by the bright light of their example. But somehow we carry on anyway, like Ricky, remembering, as he always did, all of the little ones who suffered and died, and the ones who will tomorrow if we let go of our banner, or our memories.
Ricky Lavallie. He is present.