Ex-minister says United Church liable for abuses
By Chris Morabito, The Martlet, Thursday, 2 October 1997, page 2
An ex-United Church minister has found evidence that principals of the church-run residential schools were made legal guardians of Native children in the 1940s. "As employees of the church the principals were legally liable for the welfare of all Native students, as was the United Church," said Kevin Annett. Annett's former church, St. Andrew's in Port Alberni, has issued an apology for residential school abuses. But the national church has not done so - fearing potential civil liability.
The Vancouver Sun (Sept. 29) reported that ,"the Catholic, United and Anglican denominations have started a legal push to force the federal government to accept much of the liability for native Indians who were sexually or physically abused at some of Canada's residential schools." "What the church is saying these days, about the government running the schools is a lie," said Annett. "The government let the schools do whatever they wanted." Brian Thorpe, B.C. Conference Executive Secretary with the United Church of Canada, in a September 24 new release responded directly to Annett's allegations. [Thorpe's release is appended in its entirety at the end of this article -- S.I.S.I.S.]
Thorpe wrote that the documents found by Annett contain no information that is new to them and that the church "is committed to working with First Nations people to hear the truth about residential schools and to seek repentance and healing." Despite such claims of reconciliation with Native people, Mr. Annett said that a hereditary Chief of the Ahousat nation, Earl George was barred from ministerial training after he questioned the United Church's sale of what is known as Lot 363. Annett said it was the question of Lot 363 that began the church's campaign against him in 1994.
In a letter to the Comox-Nanaimo Presbytery, the church's governing body, about a land claim by the Ahousat nation of what is known as Lot 363, Annett suggested to the presbytery that the church follow its own policies on land claims and find a way to return the land to the Ahousat. A week after the letter, according to Annett, church elites arrived in Port Alberni, and met secretly with the board of directors of his church. "Soon after, I was ordered to close the food bank I started and move the content of my sermons away from social justice issues."
Annett claims archival evidence from the UBC library shows that Lot 363 was sold by the United Church in 1953 for $2000 to Hamilton Ross, grandson of John Ross, an early church missionary who was also a residential school principal. This land, which Ahousat elders, chief George among them, claimed as sacred ancestral land in 1993, was purchased by MacMillan Bloedel in 1994 for nearly $1 million. Annett claims none of this money has ever gone to the Ahousats. Annett also maintains that NDP Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Cashore - who is also a United Church minister - kept this Lot 363 scandal secret by creating negotiations between MacBlo, the government and the Ahousat tribal council at a time when the NDP were major shareholders in MacBlo.
"Notably absent from these negotiations," said Annett, "Was the United Church, despite their original sale of the land and use of it for 50 years as the location of a residential school." It was at this residential school that, according to Ahousat elder Archie Frank, was the site of at least one murder of an Indian child in 1938 by a church official named A.E. Caldwell. In a Vancouver Sun article of December 20, 1995, entitled "Beaten to death for theft of a prune", Archie Frank was quoted as saying, "He (Albert Gray) got strapped to death. Just for stealing one prune, (Rev. A.E.) Caldwell strapped him to death. Beat the s... right out of him."
Another witness, Harriet Nahanee said she was locked in the basement of the Alberni residential school a day before Christmas 1946 for refusing to pray when she heard Caldwell and a guard arguing at the top of the stairs. Nahanee said she saw a girl standing at the top of the stairs during this argument. Then, she said, saw Caldwell kick the girl down the two long flights of stairs. Constable Gerry Peters, of an RCMP residential school task force, said Mr. Annett's allegations of these murders has yielded no evidence that the children died of anything but natural causes.
The RCMP in Port Alberni are conducting investigations into allegations of murder and other abuses at the two United Church run schools - at Alberni and Ahousat. Annett claims his evidence shows the Mounties were deputized in the 1930s as truant officers for the residential schools. "The mounties literally dragged kids away from their parents and to the residential schools," said Annett, "The RCMP are not able to honestly investigate reports of murder in the residential schools, since their own agency is implicated in the abuses," said Annett.
Letters to the Martlet: email@example.com
Brian Thorpe's response to Annett's allegations:
---------- Forwarded message ----------
To whom it may concern:
Recently, the Moderator of The United Church of Canada has received letters from individuals who have received information via email from <SISIS@envirolink.org". This information from SISIS is attributed to Kevin Annett, a former United Church minister.
The document distributed from this source contains very serious falsehoods. The material is obviously intended to damage the reputation of The United Church of Canada and, in particular, the legal counsel for the British Columbia Conference of the United Church, Dr. Jon Jessiman.
1. During a press conference called by Mr. Annett outside the United Church Conference Office on September 3, 1997 Dr. Jessiman did not take any documents from Mr. Annett's brief case.
2. The document which Mr. Annett asked for when he came to our offices following his press conference was a copy of a media release which had been distributed to all of the press gathered outside our building. As Executive Secretary of the British Columbia Conference I had been shown a copy of this press release by reporters. In order to review the release more thoroughly I took one from a stack sitting on the stoop of our building.
3. The document contained no information which was new to us. Because the United Church has been commited to full cooperation with investigations of residential school issues by the RCMP and by church and First Nations groups we had already seen and shared with others many of the documents in Mr. Annett's docket.
4. Dr. Jessiman has never represented the Comox-Nanaimo Presbytery under whose authority Mr. Annett served when a minister in Port Alberni.
5. Mr. Annett was not fired from his church in Port Alberni. He resigned. After his resignation was announced the Presbytery decided that it would be in the best interests of both the congregation and Mr. Annett if he not continue working until his announced date of departure but that he be paid full salary and benefits during this time.
6. Dr. Jessiman was not a judge at either the appeal hearing or at a subsequent hearing dealing with the Presbytery request that Mr. Annett be placed on the Discontinued Service List. At both hearings the decisions were made by a panel chosen by the Sub-Executive for the British Columbia Conference. Panel members were chosen with great care to ensure the highest degree of objectivity possible. On both panels there was noone who had any prior working relationship with either the Comox-Nanaimo Presbytery or Mr. Annett. Dr. Jessiman was counsel for the panel providing them with advice on appropriate procedure in order to ensure that both hearings adhered to the rules of evidence of the Province of British Columbia and that they followed principles of natural justice.
The three member panel gave extraordinary amounts of time to Mr. Annett to enable him to tell his story. Mr. Annett also had the opportunity to call other witnesses on his behalf (an opportunity which he chose not to take).
7. The Decision made by the panel with regard to the placing of Mr. Annett's name on the Discontinued Service List was based solely on his performance as a minister. There was no relationship to First Nations issues and, in particular, to issues related to the legacy of the residential school system.
8. Dealing honestly and openly with the experience of the residential school system is an important part of the current agenda of The United Church of Canada. The British Columbia Conference has encouraged public forums in which former students and employees in the system have had the opportunity to tell their stories. Former students (including one student who is a part of a group suing the United Church and the federal government) and a former employee of the schools were elected as commissioners to the recent General Council of the United Church. Mr. Annett's former church, St. Andrew's, Port Alberni, has issued a public apology related to the residential school system. The British Columbia Conference petitioned the General Council to issue an apology.
The General Council in August, 1997 re-affirmed its 1986 apology to First Nations people and asked to church to seek ways to express its repentance. As Willie Blackwater, the above mentioned student and commissioner to the General Council, has said, these are small steps but they are steps in the right direction. We are commited to continue to work with First Nations people to hear the truth about residential schools and to seek repentance and healing.
9. Dr. Jon Jessiman is a long standing member of the United Church of Canada. His reputation in both the church and the legal community is very high. We will not stand by and allow that reputation to be tarnished by unsubstantiated and false accusations.
Khoward@ethics.com fax: 604/391-9962
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