Kevin Annett has made a number of statements about the United Church and its role in the Indian Residential School system for over 14 years. Weaving together half-truths, conspiracy theories, misinformation, and his own unresolved issues with the church, Mr. Annett makes claims that mislead the public and do a disservice to survivors.
In addition to making these claims in public presentations and on the Internet, Mr. Annett has gathered around himself a group of followers under the name "The Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared (FRD)." The group includes some former students of residential schools and family members as well as non-Aboriginal supporters. The group claims the endorsement of several hereditary tribal chiefs. Most are not named and one, Gerald Johnston, has been found by the British Columbia Supreme Court as not entitled to represent the Squamish Nation. In a 2008 press release, the Squamish Nation stated that Mr. Johnston is not a hereditary chief and "suffers from delusions and appears to be under the influence of disgruntled non-Aboriginal people from the downtown East Side."
The United Church is not aware of any residential school survivor organization or national Aboriginal group or leader who supports or identifies with the FRD. The United Church works closely with the B.C. Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) and the National Residential School Survivors Society (NRRSS) both of which represent many thousands of former students of residential schools, and with the Assembly of First Nations, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and other recognized Aboriginal organizations.
The FRD identifies its goals as the identification, unearthing, and repatriation of the bodies of children who died at the schools and the criminal prosecution of former staff or church and government officials who they claim are responsible for the deaths. Willie Blackwater, a survivor of the Alberni Residential School and currently President of the National Residential School Survivors Society, said that he resents the idea that Annett, a white man who has never attended residential school, has somehow become the public face of the dead children. He believes Annett has "disgraced" Native people with his public demands for the dead to be repatriated. The United Church has always urged those who are in possession of information about criminal activity at the schools to go to the police.
On Tuesday, February 9, 2010, Mr. Annett arrived unannounced at the Toronto offices of The United Church of Canada to deliver a Public Notice of Intent [PDF: 2 pp/98 KB], signed by a "Jeremiah Jourdain." He was accompanied by three people who were neither introduced nor identified. Two of them were filming the event which is now available on Mr. Annett's website. When invited to speak to church officials, Mr. Annett hurried away, saying, "We have had enough of talking to church officials." This is consistent with Mr. Annett's unwillingness to meet with church officials on a number of occasions over the past years while at the same time claiming that church officials refuse to meet with him.
The Public Notice of Intent was issued, it claims, because a Letter of Demand delivered to the United Church offices in February 2008 went unanswered. This is not true. A reply from the General Secretary was sent on February 29, 2008 and posted on our website. Similarly a reply by the General Secretary to the Public Notice of Intent was sent on February 10, 2010 [PDF: 1 p/60 KB] to the e-mail address included with Mr. Jourdain's signature. That reply is also posted on the church website.
The Public Notice of Intent threatens that the FRD will commence an indefinite public campaign against the church and its officers which will include systematically disrupting the normal operations of the church including worship services and fundraising.
Below is additional information on Mr. Annett's claims:
- Mr. Annett claims that the United Church has conspired with the government, the RCMP, and others to "cover up" murders at church-run schools, including Alberni Residential School in British Columbia. In a February 2009 Red Town Radio interview in the United States, Mr. Annett alleges that, fearing exposure, the government and police are now trying to hide the evidence, digging up graves in the night. In fact, the United Church has no knowledge of such criminal behaviour and has consistently urged Mr. Annett and anyone else to present any evidence they may have to the police.
- Mr. Annett claims that the demolition in May 2009 of the former senior student residence (Peake Hall) on the site of the Alberni School was an attempt by the church to hide evidence of student deaths at the school (his website). In fact, the school site has been in the hands of the Nuu-Chal-Nulth people for decades and is now the home of band offices and other Native organizations and services. The band decided to demolish the building. Survivors who attended the ceremony at the demolition indicate it was a healing event.
- Mr. Annett claims that the United Church closed its archives in December 2007in order "to conceal its guilt" about the deaths of children at the schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (his website). In fact, the archives were temporarily closed to the public for six months to facilitate a move to a new location. Special provision was made to keep the records related to residential schools open and accessible throughout the move. Further, Mr. Annett claims that former Moderator Rev. Bill Phipps "is one of the officials responsible for hiding these records." In fact, the Rev. Phipps is not involved with any decisions regarding the archives.
- Mr. Annett alleges that over 50,000 Native children died in the schools (over 30 percent of those who attended) and that the "the residential schools were more intentionally murderous than Auschwitz" (Feb 2009 radio interview). In fact, there is no research to establish such high overall number of deaths according to residential school historian, John Milloy. Indeed, while there were periods of tragically high death rates due to epidemics of tuberculosis or influenza in the early 20th century, existing records show a much lower overall death rate. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the chronic under-funding, the crowded institutional setting, and policies based on the generally prevailing racist societal attitudes exacerbated the death rates.
- Mr. Annett claims that there are 21 mass graves on the grounds of former residential schools, including the United Church-associated Alberni and Edmonton schools (his website). In fact, exploratory excavation at the Alberni site, based on such allegations, turned up no graves. Children who died at the schools were normally buried in the cemetery of the neighbouring community. The United Church is aware of cemeteries on school properties of the Red Deer, Regina, Brandon, Edmonton, and Portage La Prairie residential schools. The cemetery on the grounds of the Edmonton school was principally used for burials of Native persons who died at the Charles Camsell Hospital. At the present time, the United Church is actively participating along with the federal government, other churches, the Assembly of First Nations, and Library and Archives Canada in the Missing Children Working Group, which is coordinating research in government and church archives into the deaths and burials of students at the schools.
- Mr. Annett claims the support of a "Chief Kiapilano" of the Squamish Nation, a man named Gerald Johnston (press statements). In fact, in a press release of May 23, 2008, the Squamish Nation stated that "Mr. Johnston is not recognized as a hereditary chief of the Squamish Nation. He ran for election to the Squamish Nation Council in 2005, placing 64th out of 68 candidates, receiving only 55 votes from 2247 eligible voters. In January this year, the British Columbia Supreme Court held that Mr. Johnston was not entitled to represent the Squamish Nation. The Squamish Nation believes Mr. Johnston suffers from delusions and appears to be under the influence of disgruntled non-Aboriginal people from the downtown East Side."
- Mr. Annett claims that he works on behalf of survivors (his website). In fact, former students have told the church that the distortion and misrepresentation of facts by Mr. Annett does not serve the interests of the survivors of the residential school system nor their families. It undermines the efforts made by all parties to face the ugly realities of the residential school system and to work toward understanding, healing, and reconciliation. One survivor wrote the following in a widely circulated email: "Whoever it may concern, my name is Charlie Thompson. I am a survivor of the Alberni Indian Residential School…I disagreed with Kevin Annett's methods of 'using' survivors of IRS's and as a result of this he defames and lies about me on his website… Almost all of the survivors in 'his' film did not give him permission to use their stories. He got their stories by lying to them that he was gathering information with agreement with the United Nations, the world organization. Turns out they never heard of him or his 'work.'"
- Mr. Annett claims that his tribunal in 1998 was affiliated with the United Nations (his book). In fact, the self-organized tribunal was not a United Nations initiative nor was it "affiliated" with the United Nations. The International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) was present solely as an observer group. (See a 1998 press release.)
- Mr. Annett claims that he was fired by the United Church for raising the residential school issue (his film, book, website). In fact, Mr. Annett resigned his position as minister of St. Andrew's United Church in Alberni, British Columbia, in writing when faced with questions about his competence for ministry. Mr. Annett's de-listing as a United Church minister was the result of two Formal Hearings conducted according to the rules of evidence of the Province of British Columbia. The report of the Formal Hearing is found on the British Columbia Conference website. For more than a decade, Mr. Annett has repeatedly made disparaging public statements which verge on defamation about a number of the United Church officials and members who were involved in the process that led to his name being placed on the church's discontinued service list.
- Mr. Annett and his supporters demand immediate repatriation of the bodies of the buried children back to their home communities (his website, rallies, letters of demand, press statements). In fact, many Native elders, survivors, and families of former students do not want the graves of buried children to be disturbed. They prefer that burial sites be consecrated through ceremony. Willie Blackwater is a survivor of the Alberni Residential School and currently President of the National Residential School Survivors Society. He is well-known for his landmark lawsuit that established the liability of the government and the United Church for the individual abuses that occurred in the schools. In a recent interview with the B.B.C., Mr. Blackwater said he resents the idea that Annett, a white man who has never attended residential school, has somehow become the public face of the dead children. He believes Annett has "disgraced" Native people with his public demands for the dead to be repatriated.
- On his website, Mr. Annett claims Noam Chomsky said, "Kevin is more deserving of the Nobel Prize than many who have received it in the past." In fact, in an e-mail of March 11, 2009, Mr. Chomsky recalls no such endorsement of Mr. Annett.
- In an April 6, 2009 media advisory, Mr. Annett says, "Last month, Canada and its churches were condemned in the United Nations' human rights councils for its genocide of Native people." In fact, in February 2009, Canada's human rights record was reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Of the 45 states that spoke during the three-hour session, 30 raised concerns about the rights of Indigenous peoples. No reference to "genocide of Native people" appears in the highlights document posted on the Human Rights Council's website.
In a Media Advisory and Press Statement of February 1, 2009 on his website, Mr. Annett announced that he is currently promoting "a new political initiative known as the Republican Movement of Kanata, established to sever ties with the British Crown and legally disestablish the Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Church of Canada". His statement says that he plans to establish local branches of the Republican Party of Kanata.
Mr. Annett has been active under the identities of Friends and Families of the Disappeared, the Tribunal into Canadian Residential Schools, and the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada as well as the name Eagle Strong Voice.
Independent journalists have looked into the claims and allegations made by Mr. Annett:
The response of the United Church to the legacy of the residential school system is shaped and coordinated by the Residential Schools Steering Committee, which includes Aboriginal members from across the country, some of whom are residential school survivors. The United Church is also being guided by consultations with Aboriginal political, healing, and survivor organizations.
The United Church accepts without question its complicity in the residential school system and the tragic impact that the system had on Aboriginal children, families, communities, and nations. (Approximately 10 percent of residential schools were affiliated with the United Church.) In 1986, The United Church of Canada offered its first apology to First Nations peoples. The church extended a second apology specifically to former students and their families in 1998, accepting responsibility for its involvement in the federal system of Indian Residential Schools.
Since that time, the United Church has actively sought paths of justice, healing, and reconciliation. The church acknowledges its part in the colonial enterprise which resulted in a society that has been unjust, abusive, and racist. We consider that the treatment of Aboriginal peoples, including the imposition of the residential school system, constitutes a shameful chapter in Canada's national history. The United Church deeply respects the courage of former students who are making known painful stories of suffering and abuse experienced at the schools, and in no way seeks to suppress these stories or to evade its responsibility. The United Church is committed to facing the ugly realities of the residential school system and to actively living out its apologies.
For more information on the church's response, see Indian Residential Schools.