It?s not a pretty story. Unrepentant documents the ?deliberate and systematic extermination? of non-Christian indigenous people by Catholic, United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches within the Indian residential school system, in collusion with the federal government.
The film, which made its American debut last November at the New York Independent Film and Video Festival where it won Best Director of an International Documentary, is based on Annett?s groundbreaking book, ?Hidden From History: The Canadian Holocaust.? Unrepentant will also be screened at various film festivals around the world.
?We want to generate international pressure on Canada and the churches to start to have full disclosure about what went on so that there can be some healing; real healing can only happen when there?s been that kind of complete disclosure,? Annett told the Epoch Times from his home in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
First-hand testimonies from residential school survivors are interwoven with Annett?s own story of how, as a United Church minister in Port Alberni, he was fired, publicly defrocked, and had his reputation maligned by church officials after he uncovered evidence of murder and other crimes committed by the church through its Indian boarding schools.
Around1929, the churches were given legal guardianship of all the children who attended the schools, and Annett says this gave school staff free rein to perpetrate any atrocity upon their wards without having to answer to anyone.
The list of crimes is long, and includes beatings, electric shocks, forced sterilization, medical experimentation, starvation, rape as well as various other forms of sexual abuse, and murder.
As the residential school survivors in Unrepentant tell their stories, the pain evident on their stoic faces, an understanding of what went on in those institutions gradually emerges.
Some spoke of young girls becoming pregnant as a result of rape, or nuns becoming pregnant after sexually abusing boys; some described being made to dig graves for the babies who would be killed after birth.
Rick Lavalee talked about hearing the agonized cries of his only brother as he was being tortured with a cattle prod. The boy died on the spot. Belvy Breber recounted how her brother was hanged in the gym of the Kuper Island school. She was told he?d committed suicide, but she didn?t believe it. While the boy was still hanging, the other kids were paraded through the gym as a warning that this could happen to them if they didn?t behave.
Of the 100,000 who went through the schools, it is estimated that at least 50,000 were killed. Many of those who died were buried in unmarked graves on or around the school grounds; none of the bodies were ever returned to the families.
Harriet Nahanee, who spent five years at the Alberni Residential School, said she remembered the RCMP arriving at her village in a gunboat to round up the children who were to be taken to the school. Children as young as three were often taken even though the schools weren?t supposed to accept anyone under the age of seven.
If the parents fought this abduction of their children, they were liable to be arrested under the provisions of the Indian Act, something Annett calls ?a piece of race-based legislation? in that it almost completely took away the rights of the native peoples.
Germ warfare was also used. Narrator Lori O?Rorke said deliberately-spread smallpox epidemics in the 1700s and 1800s killed ?untold millions? of the world?s indigenous people and wiped out many Canadian aboriginals even before the residential schools began operating. Annett says approximately 98 percent of native populations on the west coast were decimated by smallpox.
Survivors in Unrepentant describe how, during a tuberculosis outbreak, they were made to play and sleep with infected children so that they too would become infected with the highly contagious disease.
While most of the schools had closed by 1984, the last federally run facility, the Gordon Residential School in Saskatchewan, closed in 1996.
The legacy of Canada?s residential schools, says Annett, is evident in the high rates of suicide, substance abuse and poverty seen in aboriginal communities across the country. He believes he can help change this by ?raising an awareness of what actually happened here and the long-term effects it?s having on aboriginal people.?
?The aboriginal people need recognition and to be treated with dignity and respect, and that?s not happening right now. Anyone who?s been abused in any way needs the crime to be recognized and named, and it really hasn?t been.?
On our film UNREPENTANT and its Deeper Message – A Personal Note from Kevin Annett, co-producer and writer
UNREPENTANT is many things, but for me it is a mirror, held up to my own Euro-Canadian culture and people. In the time left to us, we need to accept the image that stares back at us as what we have become. As I have so often done when presiding at the funeral of friends and others, I am counselling and speaking to the dying in this film: to the members of a collapsing culture whose ways are causing their own planetary self-destruction in the wake of their extermination of millions of indigenous people.
I hope the terrible irony of this situation will not be lost on the viewers of UNREPENTANT, conditioned as many of us “white” people are in the role of ruler, judge and ultimate “fixer” of any problem. The truth is, we have no solution to our own demise, any more than we can handily “heal” the genocidal horror we unleashed and still inflict on aboriginal people. For that horror has never been halted, but has turned back upon us in the unstoppable fury of global ecocide, and is devouring the air we breathe and the land we cling to.
In that sense, UNREPENTANT is not about setting anything right, ultimately, for it’s much too late for that. Imagine a chapel filled with people come to mourn a dead stranger, only to discover that they are all about to die, and you will begin to sense the deeper meaning of this film.
Before he was killed by a landowner’s death squad, a defrocked Guatemalan priest once led me through a refugee camp filled with sick and starving people. When I asked him what I could do to help them, he said,
“Nothing. Stop thinking you can help, and you may learn something.”
I say the same to you, the viewers of UNREPENTANT.
Kevin Annett / Eagle Strong Voice
Occupied Coast Salish Territory
1 March, 2007
(For a trailer of UNREPENTANT and information how to order this film, see: http://www.hiddenfromhistory.org )
Read and Hear the truth of Genocide in Canada, past and present, at this website: http://www.hiddenfromhistory.org …
… and on this radio program: “Hidden from History”, every Monday from 1-2 pm (PST) on CFRO 102.7 FM ( http://www.coopradio.org ) (Vancouver)
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