The TRC Interim Report… The Truth That Failed

Reprinted from the Canadian Shield, by Bill Annett

We’ve just spent half a day (perhaps too much) reading a 115-page tome, neither scholarly nor journalistic mais tous les deux, entitled “They Came For The Children.” It’s the interim report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that icon and crowning triumph of Stephen Harper’s Canadian majority government.

It’s good. It is indeed, a jaw-dropper for sleeping Canadians. And it’s great material for the likes of Fats Milloy, the Trent University savant in the field of indigenous atrocity, of Flyin’ Phil Fontaine, the government poster boy and erstwhile chief pooh-bah of the AFN, and legions of Canadian journalists wondering where their next byline is coming from. All three groups in the last few days have been enthusing about Justice Murray Sinclair’s tour de farce.

And in fact, Sinclair (along with Littlechild and Wilson, the whole triumvirate) does tell the truth about the sickening Canadian history of the rez schools. They just don’t tell ENOUGH truth. When they get close to the mark, a curtain seems to drop. Censorship seems to sink in, and we all know why. Big Steve told them to do it that way. It was in their mandate, their rule book.

If we were visiting aliens from Mars or Tahiti, or perhaps Courtenay, B.C., unfamiliar with or perhaps uncaring about the reality of life in the true North, strong and free (as long as you’re white) we would be impressed – and profoundly sickened – with this story – although indeed there is nothing new here that most of us had not known about before, however obliquely.

It’s all here, and lavishly presented. The stark photos of rows and rows of native kids posing glumly with nuns, priests and functionaries in front of institutional-looking buildings reminiscent of churches – in Sandy Bay, or Qualicum or Brantford. It’s well-written, not of course by the Milloys or the Fontaines but by some flack in the PMO, and signed off by those three I have difficulty not calling the Three Stooges of Canadian historical tragedy: Sinclair, Littlechild and Wilson. The Truth and Reconciliation gang who aren’t about to set us free.

They talk endlessly about the atrocities in the rez schools, but always with studied restraint. Let us say it again: repeat, what they say is bad enough, by any normal prison standard, this stuff is enough to make you sick at the whole human race, not just lovely Canada. The starvation, the beatings, the deprivation of family, culture, even language.

They, the Commission, flirt with Dr. Peter Bryce’s 1907 account of 50% mortality, but it’s sluffed over, mentioning only how inhuman Bryce’s idiot boss, Duncan Campbell Scott, was – intent on his wiping out all vestiges of the noble culture his generation sought to extinguish. But the Stooges know their limitations, their mandate. There is not a single mention in 115 pages of the word “rape,’ “sodomy,” “medical experimentation,” “sterilization,” or God help us, the G-word, even in the sanitized academic fashion in which Fats Milloy hints at it.

How could it have been otherwise, according to the reports we’ve received from those hootenany sessions they held in Winnipeg and Inuvik and Halifax. Peter Yellow Quill, an Anishinabe elder from western Manitoba, told in great detail how prospective victims and survivors were coached as to what and how they were to testify, the whole stage-managed, scripted method to ensure that the testimony wouldn’t get out of hand and embarrass the good old churches and, least of all, Harper and his distinguished predecessors dating back to John A, the alcohol-challenged father of our country.

There’s even a straight-faced report of the famous RCMP “investigation” into all this irregularity back in 1995. We know all about that one first hand, because a Mountie Sergeant in Vancouver confided to Kevin Annett behind his hand “if we investigated every case of this kind of sex abuse or atrocity, it would take us for ever.”

And a funny thing happened on their way to cutting-edge scholarship and historical journalism. In the hundreds of footnotes, in which reference is constantly made to learned papers going back to Davin, a colonial creep of the 19th Century, discussing their theories of cultural erasement, and all sorts of contemporary experts on indigenous people, not a single mention is made of Reverend Kevin Annett, the 20 years and 400 pages of scholarship he has devoted to the subject, the internationally award-winning feature film he and Louis Lawless created, the attention he has gained by the academic world in Innsbruck, Slovenia, Norwich, Dublin, Boston and Berkeley. And how he’s never been able to buy a headline in his own country.

Indeed, his 400 pages, unlike this 115, didn’t cost the Canadian taxpayers a cent, compared with the $68 million tab for this slim volume. And we thought Canadians were thrifty.

But a host of people – Canadian politicians and newsmakers, university professors, working stiffs and yes, native people, even beyond the cloistered space of the federally payroll-challenged chiefs and tribal councils, and especially the nouveau politicians in the AFN – believe and have already said so – that Sinclair and Co. have done a valuable job here, that there will be a new awakening in national consciousness, that education, public awareness and all sorts of goodies (like compensation) will follow, and in a generation or three, healing will take place.

We believe otherwise. We believe this grandstanding minimalization of what one honest scholar in the University of Lethbridge has called “the most re-engineered civilization in history,” can have a result that is far worse than having done nothing at all. Because we’re all led to believe that some great epiphany has happened, while in fact not a damned thing of consequence will take place. The Indian Act will remain in force (because Harper has so announced in the last month) with all it’s medieval control. The Crown will still dictate land use, and parliamentary procedure, and Canada’s archaic legal system, and something called Westminster will continue as our de facto head of stazte.

And long live the Doctrine of Discovery, the Papal bulls and the religious bullshit.

That’s of course exactly what would have happened anyway, had Reverend Kevin Annett not blown the whistle on church and government – and their minions like the RCMP – 20 years ago, he who has paid the piper for his insubordination ever since.

No wonder they don’t mention him. “Kevin Annett and the Canadian Genocide,” the theme of his books, film and international lectures, would shake up this format too much. He talks straight medicine. This is a placebo.

And it’s swallowed, hook, line and sinker, by earnest seekers after truth like Rodney Clifton, writing in the faithful Winnipeg Free Press, who works for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg, and among other things believes that ol’ Murray is being too tough on the government when he uses the G-word, even in a nice way, like talking about obliterating a culture.

T’aint so, says Rodney, and he knows because he was there. Of course, he was there at a rez school, he says, in a supervisory capacity, which says a lot, because it was sort of Murray Sinclair’s schtick as well. And Rodney says, shucks, a lot of those nuns and other people were pretty kind, and he recalls one occasion when a kid was sick they made him feel better. And apparently, Rodney didn’t see any murders or rape incidents so it must be exageration. And Murray shouldn’t have used the G-word.

“I know things in the rez schools were harsh,” says Rodney. “But I have never seen good evidence of one child dying a preventable death.”

How about the 75,000 unpreventable ones, Rod? Do the math. If 150,000 kids were rounded up by the Musical Ride Boys, and 75,000 never went home – which everybody seems to admit, even Harper and the Stooges – what happened to them? Did they all become nuns or priests or Mounties?

Nobody’s ever touched that one – even Fats Milloy of Flyin’ Phil Fontaine. We’ve spent $68 million trying to find out. Don’t expect the TRC to come up with an answer.