The Feather Merchants*

Inoculating against Canadian genocide guilt

Compensation? After we pay the government lawyers, there’s about enough left for one good drunk before we commit suicide.

— Johnny (Bingo) Dawson, No fixed address, Vancouver, Canada

Preamble: Questioning Canadian mathematics, as revealed by two news items, albeit separated by a lapse of 107 years.

(1) In June, 1907, both the Montreal Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen reported that Dr. Peter Bryce, a medical director appointed by the Canadian Government, had completed a national inspection tour and concluded that the death rate in 141 Indian Residential Schools among the incarcerated children (eventually totaling 150,000) approximated 50%.

(2) On January 3, 2014, the National Post in Toronto reported that, after five years of diligent research in church and government archives, the staging of five or six public hearings at which a carefully selected cohort of victims and survivors had presented well-coached and edited testimony, the expenditure of $68 million in taxpayers’ remittances and the production of a massive 115-page report, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, stirred into wakefulness perhaps by the recent passing of Nelson Mandela (who along with Desmond Tutu first coined the TRC title), made the startling announcement that as many as 4,000 Indian kids had died in those pesky schools.

I admit that I flunked trigonometry in the 12th Grade, but I’m missing something here. Perhaps Dr. Bryce — who incidentally was fired for his over-zealous tabulation and never worked for the Government again, but retired to a family practice in Mimico — really meant that 75,000 Indigenous kids simply failed to graduate cum laude from their curriculum of scrubbing floors and dodging nuns’ knuckles, or even more routinely simply failed to return home. Perhaps, inspired by their surroundings and appreciating the opportunity to become quasi-Canadians, the 75,000 kids had all pursued careers as Mounties, priests and sisters of charity.

In an attempt to unravel this actuarial puzzler, I’ve re-examined my 500 newsletters as well as the scholarly research of Reverend Kevin Annett [son of the writer — DV Ed], who — shortly after having been jettisoned like a frisbee from the ministerial ranks of the United Church of Canada — produced a Ph.D. thesis on the subject at the University of British Columbia, which had already seen fit to confer on him a Bachelor of Arts, (Anthropology), a Master of Arts (Political Economy) and (a little more spiritually) a Master of Theology.

Strangely, both he and his dissertation were ejected from that center of learning. It seems that his subject matter was not de rigeur since it tended to excoriate the Trustees, the Governors and the Chancellor of UBC, a smattering of whom routinely represent the very same United Church and forestry company that he had exposed as charlatans and thieves, which in turn figure prominently in that university’s hefty endowment. I mean, you can’t bring a case to a court where the judge is the perp, can you?

Here are my findings:

We haven’t heard much from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) lately. I like to think they’re winding up for another public hearing, more testimony from church atrocity survivors, an additional societal vaccination extravaganza. Perhaps in Spring Coulee, Alberta or Rat Portage, Ontario.

Whoever has been quarterbacking the TRC, whether it’s rez alumnus and Chairman Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair, Commission members Wilson or Littlechild, or somebody even craftier in the Prime Minister’s Office, the genius responsible really belongs on Madison Avenue. In hearings to date they’ve come up with three fool-proof techniques for force-feeding reconciliation for all those Indian rez school survivors and, what’s more important, injecting a form of truth serum into the dozing Canadian public. Not to mention the Canadian media, who could always use a little of both T and R.

The Center For Disease Control and the World Health Organization couldn’t immunize us all better. Here are the three ways to inoculate against the notion that the Canadian version of genocide is still around:

      1. Somebody else done it.

      2. Exonerating with faint blame.

      3. Compensation heals everything.

1. Somebody Else Done It (or The Al Gore Diversion)

The latest testimony from the TRC’s earnest seeking after Truth (in order to achieve Reconciliation), was staged and choreographed some time ago in the metropolis of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (proudly named after Queen Victoria’s Bavarian bed mate), the home town not only of the late Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, but at the same time one of the most blood-soaked Indian Residential Schools in Canadian history.

In native circles, when you are handed the feather, you are entitled to speak. This is the con job the TRC has been merchandising for five years now.

In Prince Albert, the main guy given the feather and providing the feature performance, was a sure-enough Indigenous, graduate of the rez, but so redeemed and Canadianized that he even had a brief shot at a National Hockey League farm team. No matter. As an effective fed witness, he ranks right up there with Flyin’ Phil Fontaine, the former payroll Chief Chief.

To the vast audience of half a dozen or so Prince Albertians and a few slumbering journalists and a CBC cameraperson, he testified as to how he had been raped at the age of nine in the local rez school – by some of the older native boys. Wow.

What’s the take-away from this tragic story for the average Canadian onlooker? Well – it’s pretty nasty, but boys will be boys, you know. We all got into that sort of hanky-panky down at the old swimmin’ hole at one time or another, right?

Priests? Nuns? Catholic janitors and other innocent laypersons? Not on your life. Didn’t have anything to do with it. The carefully coached witness went on to add that “the priest could have seen it, and did nothing about it.” Well, that’s pretty bad, and the priest should maybe have gotten a slap on the wrist from a bishop or somebody, for not being more vigilant over those bad boys. But he probably had heard about Boys’ Town and all that. There’s no such thing as a bad (Indian) boy. And he did have a lot on his mind, like the turkey raffle. Nothing to get all worked up about.

It reminded me of the feature program not long ago on Al Gore’s new TV network, Current Television, dubbed “Rape On The Reservation. ” The program effectively made the case that these rez boys are up to no good, but devoted nary a word to the subject of how contemporary native culture got that way, by being traumatized for six generations by a paternal Government and outreaching churches, carefully herded onto the most worthless stretches of the continent that we stole from them.

2. Absolving With Faint Blame

This technique owes its origin to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who originated it in his famous parliamentary soliloquy in 2008, when he apologized for this, that and the other thing, such as misguided assimilation, flawed pedagogy, inappropriate teaching of social skills and the like, but carefully avoided any mention of churches, rape, sodomy, medical experimentation and murder, not to mention the latter-day proselytizing by the government of payroll chiefs and tribal councils and the taking of skid row Indians on one-way rides by the police, and the cover-up of child trafficking in all its delightful forms by politicians, high-ranking judges and law enforcement agencies at the most rarified level.

In other words, it’s the old lawyer’s trick of copping a minor plea in order to avoid the felony and close the case. The churches took the hint from the PMO, blubbering about outreach while not mentioning the in-grab, healing the victims on white man’s terms while remaining in total denial of felony of the most despicably monstrous and universal kind.

Harper’s Apology is the most sickening manifestation of absolution with faint blame. A Vancouver skid row alumnus named Bingo Dawson (long dead because he loved to talk about the rez school he was penned up in) pointed out that it was like this: a guy steals your car, and then rings your door bell and apologizes. You say, “Oh, that’s okay,” at which point he gets back in your car and drives off again.

Perpetuating the felony makes any apology nonsense. And admitting to a misdemeanor, you can walk from a murder rap.

3. Compensation heals everything

But the greatest of all cop-outs is compensation. There has been so much concentration on compensation of late — by both native and white crusaders — that it crowds every other consideration off the stage. And it is performed on a stage, written, directed and produced by lawyers, practising and political.

The libretto is provided by the press, who love to talk about how generous we are:

An Edmonton Journal news item: “A coalition of groups for Indian residential school survivors wants to reopen the $5-billion compensation settlement account…”

The Montreal Gazette: “It’s the largest-ever compensation deal in Canadian history…” (Not really, Gaz. That honor belongs to the rip-off of that monstrous red blob on Mercator’s Projection, for which our forefathers paid with the Bible and a few Hudson’s Bay Blankets anointed with small pox.)

There’s nothing like the smell of money to wake up the Canadian media. But the compensation gambit has yet to ask the question: how do you compensate for genocide? It’s worse than that. When we talk about compensation, it’s understood that everything is fixed, so that no other action is necessary. And the spiritual genocide goes on, the tribal councils get juiced by the feds, the women continue to disappear from skid row, native unemployment remains well over 36% and the Indian Act is still in play.

And as official policy at the Federal level, compensation cleans the slate while government lawyers, such as the Merchant Group in Regina, manage to cream 40% of the total off the top.

The late great Bingo Dawson once remarked: “By the time we pay the lawyers, there’s about enough left for a good drunk before we commit suicide.” Al Gore’s network would comment that these native youths nowadays are an irresponsible lot.

Voila. Three kinds of inoculation, as effective as swine flu vaccine. Except, of course, that the swine flu pandemic was a fraud. The genocide really happened, and continues to happen, for all of us, giving and receiving.

Which one do you believe? Of the four, I’m forced to accept the H1N1 injection as the most credible and least damaging. At least it can’t do as much harm as the other three, as wielded by an array of feather merchants.

* My posthumous apologies to the late Max Shulman, whose book with that title dealt with relatively harmless post-war G.I. hustlers.

Bill Annett writes four newsletters: The Canadian Shield, American Logo, Beating the Street, and The Oyster World. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Bill.