Indian Residential Schools: The Past is Present; Interview With Pierre Laboisser

Residential Schools—The Past is Present Radio program w/James Craven on The United Church May 2000 TAPE 1 transcription – introduction…

Most genocides in this century have been perpetuated by nation states upon ethnic minorities living within the state’s own borders. Most of the victims have been children. The people responsible for mass murder have by and large gotten away with what they have done. Most have succeeded in keeping the wealth that they’ve looted from their victims. Most have never faced trial. Genocide is still difficult to eradicate because it is usually tolerated, at least by those who benefit from it.

Pierre Laboisser intro… Residential schools operated in Canada from around 1870 to the early 1980s. The children of First Nations groups were removed by law from their homes and families and forced to attend schools operated by non-Indians. The government contracted out the running of the schools to the churches. Although not all Indian children went to these schools, or went for the full 12 years, residential schooling was a part of the Indian experience affecting everyone in the communities. Residential schools were part and parcel of the federal government’s policy towards native people. The eradication of a people facilitates the theft of occupied land. This can be done using various methods, and the residential school is one of them. And this has clearly been the agenda of the Canadian government. These methods have been understood by many countries who have bloodied their hands in colonialism, using residential schools to destroy a people, such as their implementation in the Soviet Union, the USA, Australia, Japan and India. It is also defined, within the UN Convention on Genocide, as being a violation against humanity. Residential schools do not stand alone as an aberration out of context with the development of Canada. They are but one tactic in the process of the colonization of the Americas which has been and still is, genocidal.

PL: Jim Craven and I went up to the United Church conference today. We went up there to hand out some pamphlets on residential schools and to talk with people, individual members of the congregation. We wanted to address what the United Church was involved with in implementing the residential schools, which is nothing short of genocide. We wanted to talk with people and point out certain things that the United Church has not been addressing. In 1986 they issued an apology to native people regarding the operation of residential schools and that was contained within our pamphlet that we handed out. One of the things they said was that they have since issued another apology, a revised apology, so to speak, in 1998, and they were suggesting that we shouldn’t be handing out a pamphlet that was just talking about something in the past that they’ve changed. Well, we got hold of the 1998 apology, the revised apology so to speak. I think we’ll start off by looking at these apologies and what they really mean. How much of an apology they really are.

JC: We went up there to the United Church, and we had the understanding that we were invited as observers. We checked in, so it was all up front, we weren’t sneaking in on anybody, we announced who we were. We had some literature with us, and initially no one told us we couldn’t pass out literature. We went in, looking to set up a booth, because we didn’t want to invade people’s privacy, force literature on people. What we wanted was a table so people could come up on their own and pick up the literature, or not, rather than our approaching people. We tried to be respectful in every way, and what happened was some of the clergy and other volunteers approached us and said that we could stay there as observers but not pass anything out. We asked why, because those same clergy had been at our conference in St. Thomas and were welcomed, and they were perfectly free to pass out whatever they wanted to pass out and say what they wanted to say. We thought we would have the same arrangement, and if people don’t like what you’re saying they will rebut it. We were told, no, because some of the parishioners who were there were just starting to understand about the residential schools and they really weren’t prepared for a lot of detail on it. Our pamphlet, by the way, includes a copy of the full text of the UN Convention on Genocide, so that when we use the word “genocide” people can see exactly what it means. What they said was that our pamphlet was in error because it includes the 1986 apology and a critique of it, but, there has subsequently been a 1998 apology.

We both asked for a copy of the 1998 apology and said we’ll include it in the pamphlet. We asked repeatedly for a copy of the 1998 apology. Finally, they said no. So we said, ok, this is your space, your right, so we’ll just go outside and pass out our pamphlets outside so we’re not on your property. We proceeded to do that. We were then approached and asked by one United Church minister who asked if we would want to meet with the moderator of the UC, The Right Rev Bill Phipps. We said, yes, absolutely, we’d like to have a talk with him; especially since during the Tribunal I participated in in Vancouver he had been invited and didn’t even give a response that he wouldn’t be attending. So we had about a 1-1/2 hour conversation with the moderator. Present was the General Counsel of the UC, some clergy, and some other people. We wanted to have a dialogue and tell them exactly where we were coming from. We asked repeatedly in that meeting to give us a copy of the 1998 apology so we could include it as the latest one. We said “whatever you have to offer we will circulate it ourselves because we don’t hide things, play tricks with evidence.” But they continually said they didn’t have it while getting on our case for not having included it in our pamphlet. When we returned, we got on the internet and got a copy of the 1998 apology. Obviously it’s important, if we’re going to talk about the issue, to talk about the most recent apology. They said this was a “better” apology than the one in 1986. So perhaps we could start with the 1986 apology, then talk about the discussion we had with the Moderator of the UC, and then take it from there.

We’ll start by reading out the 1986 UC apology, and I’ll make brief commentaries in specific aspects of it as we proceed.

Apology given by the UC of Canada (1986)

UC: Long before my people journeyed to this land, your people were here and you received from your elders an understanding of creation and of the mystery that surrounds us all that was deep and rich and to be treasured. We did not hear you when you shared your vision…

JC: First of all, they didn’t allow native children to even speak. It wasn’t a question of merely not hearing. Native children were never allowed to give their vision. They were disabused of it from the get-go.

UC: …in our zeal to tell you the good news of Jesus Christ, we were blind to the value of your spirituality…

JC: This implies that the only motive in the residential schools was missionary zeal. In fact, the missionary schools were about grabbing land, about creating a pool of semi-skilled and unskilled cheap labor; they were about de-Indianization, about breaking connections with tribes and with inheritance of allotments that went with the tribal connection.

PL: Can you comment a bit more in terms of theft of land…

JC: A famous case is called Lot 363. That was a case in British Colombia, which is traditional ancestral lands of the Ahousaht and large lands were appropriated from these people. They were sold to the grandson of a UC missionary for $2500. Later on that same plot of land, after repeated protests by the elders, was sold to McMillan-Blodell for over $1 million, a considerable profit. And there were numerous other cases where lands were “gifted” to the Church and then later sold for profit. But part of de-Indianizing involves not only assimilating Indians into the dominant culture, but breaking Indians away from the traditional community which includes the lands of your traditional community; and those lands of course are very rich and very precious. So the implication here is that all the schools were about was telling Indians about the good news of Jesus Christ. By the way, as far as I know Jesus Christ never sanctioned murder, torture, rape, sexual molestation, or sterilizing children and using them for medical experiments.

UC: …we imposed our civilization as a condition for accepting the gospel. We tried to make you like us, and in doing so we helped destroy the vision that made you what you were. As a result you and we are poorer, and the image of the creator in us is twisted and blurred, and we are not what we are meant by the great spirit to be.

JC: That part is at least admitting that the residential schools were about more then spreading the gospel. It’s about forced assimilation. And that part does suggest that there were motives other than just spreading the gospel. “We tried to make you like us”? No. They have never accepted Indian people, even assimilated ones, as like them. What they wanted to make them was non-Indians, but never whites. Assimilated Indians will always be Indians first, but they will never have the status of the whites.

UC: We who represent the UC of Canada ask you to forgive us and to walk together in the spirit of Christ so that our people may be blessed and God’s creation healed. . .In 1986 The UC of Canada issued an apology to native congregations in respect to the operation of residential schools. The UC of Canada recognizes that Church-run residential schools was one of the primary contributors to the destruction of Indian culture, spirituality and language.

JC: Here they don’t mention that that [ the destruction of Indian culture, spirituality and language] was the intention. The implication is that was an effect. But it was the intention, the clear-stated intention in their own documents.

UC: In the 1990s, the UC of Canada has undertaken a number of initiatives to build a new relationship between native and nonnative members and between the Church and other aboriginal people. The UC of Canada states we are committing ourselves anew to finding a good way.

JC: Again, as we discussed with the Moderator today, you remember that the Moderator said they have a problem using the word genocide because some people are just leery of that word, they’re uncomfortable, it freaks them out, and we included in this pamphlet the actual UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide so that rather than being accused of talking rhetoric people could read the actual law itself, and what exactly constitutes genocide, and it’s in Article 2:

“A. Killing members of the group.” Has that been done to Indians in North America? Absolutely.
“B. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.” Was that done at the residential schools? Yes, gang rapes, feeding people maggot-infested food, sterilizing children, murdering children, secret graveyards, using them for medical experimentation, putting needles through various parts of their bodies, forcing them to perform public sex acts for voyeuristic Church officials…and it goes on and on and on. I think all those would qualify as serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
“C. Deliberately inflicting upon the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Was that done? Yes, the evidence is unequivocal.
“D. Imposing measure intended to prevent births within the group.” Yes, native children, both male and female, routinely have been sterilized in both Canada and the United States. Many times it was done without their knowledge, like saying you got a gynecological problem, or in some cases it was coerced, actually forced.
“E. Forcibly transferring children of one group to another group.” Was that done? You bet. That’s what the residential schools were all about.

In law, any of those five, any of them, not all, constitutes genocide under the law. And we pointed that out. I also asked the Moderator if he had read the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide, and he said it has been some time ago. So this is the apology given in 1986. It says nothing about the residential schools being subcontractors in genocide. It says nothing about the various intentions, and these are revealed in their own documents, of not just to spread the gospel of Jesus, but intentions in terms of grabbing land, creating cheap labor pools, forcible assimilation, breaking treaties, destroying whole tribes and whole cultures by destroying their Indianness; and even destroying them physically.

We pointed that out to the Moderator. When he asked the question how do we move forward, we discussed the mandates of aboriginal law, which are: truth first; then justice; then healing; then reconciliation,; then prevention of future abuse. I said we can’t move forward without the truth. We can’t move forward with half-truths, pseudo-truths. There’s no reason to proceed if we continue those lies. And one of those lies is not to use the word genocide. I asked him if anyone would have a problem if I used the word genocide in connection with what the Nazis did to Jews, Gypsies, and so on. Would anyone consider it rhetoric?; would it make them queasy or nervous? He said no.

But before we proceed on, I’d like to read from James Poole’s Hitler and his Secret Partners:
“Hitler did not approach the problem of extermination of the Jews haphazardly. He had carefully studied some of the most prominent examples of mass murder in history. His four principal inspirations were the slaughter of the American Indians, killing of Armenians by the Turks, the Red Terror during the Communist Revolution in Russia, and Japanese butchery in Nanking in 1937…. Always contemptuous of the Russians, Hitler said ‘for them the word liberty means the right to wash only on feast days. If we arrive bringing soft soap we’ll attain no sympathy. There’s only one duty: to Germanize this country by the immigration of Germans and to look upon the natives as Redskins.’ Having been a devoted reader of Karl May’s (sp?) books on the American West as a youth, Hitler frequently referred to the Russians as ‘Redskins.’ He saw a parallel between his effort to conquer and colonize land in Russia with the conquest of the American West by the white man and the subjugation of Indians or Redskins. ‘I don’t see why,’ he said, ‘a German who eats a piece of bread should torment himself with the idea that the soil that produces this bread has been won by the sword. When we eat wheat from Canada, we don’t think about the despoiled Indians.’

I read this passage to the Moderator. So here we have evidence. Nobody would have any problem in using the word genocide when talking about the Nazis and what they did. And furthermore, clear evidence that Hitler’s inspiration was the Canadian/American experience with respect to First Nations peoples. So what are we to make, then, of the continual refusal to use that word, genocide? And the explanation? “Our parishioners aren’t ready for that yet.” As we pointed out to the Moderator today, we have no time left. Our elders are dying, our children are dying, we don’t have time for people to get “ready” for it. As long as these cover-ups continue, as long as they refuse to call it what it is, the genocide and legacies of genocide continue. I’m sure that somebody who commits murder doesn’t want to call it murder; one more example: remember the case of Bishop O’Connor, who committed violent rape, convicted three time and got off three times, and finally he has a “healing session circle” in lieu of being tried for the fourth time? What does he do? He said, “I apologize for violating my responsibilities as a priest for having had sexual relations with my parishioners.” No rape – it’s hard for him to use that word rape. He didn’t have “sexual relations.” He beat and mauled and raped women and he was convicted three times for doing it. So with all due respect to the Moderator, and we’re grateful he gave us time and listened to us, this is a phony apology.

What’s interesting is that when we read the 1998 one tonight, it’s even worse than the 1986 one. Why they would tout that to us is inexplicable. In law, if I see that a crime has been committed, and I cover it up, and covering it up includes not calling it what it is, that’s a coverup. Two crimes have been a committed: (1) I’m a party morally to the perpetration of the original crime I’m helping to cover up by not calling it what it is and discussing its true magnitude, and (2) I’ve created a new crime, the crime of coverup, which is a second crime. And that’s what we’re talking about here. You’ve got evidence that the major inspiration for Hitler was exactly the system, the system of residential schools and everything that went with it.

PL: Just a comment: not calling genocide “genocide” is covering up the reality and changes the implications of what happened.

JC: Here they say in their apology “we did not hear you.” Not true, because children were not allowed to speak. They were beaten whenever they did anything “Indian.” When children said their prayers in their native language they were beaten and tortured. When a child wore her hair long, the hair was cut. When a child wore traditional ornaments and regalia, he or she was beaten and then mocked and tormented. Saying “you said it to us but we didn’t hear you…” No. They were never allowed to be Indian from the first day of residential school. Just like boot camp in the military. From the first day you’re told you’re not an Indian here. Get ready for it. Don’t speak your language. So here they’re saying “we have so much respect for you native people, we’re sorry we didn’t listen to you.” Well, when you don’t call genocide “genocide,” you desecrate the memory, desecrate the pain and desecrate the suffering of all of those who suffered in that system.

Better you don’t apologize–just say go to hell–than a phony apology that is designed to mitigate your damages in any litigation and mitigate your cognitive dissonance problems, and cover up what that system was about. That system wasn’t about Jesus Christ. There’s nowhere in the bible that sanctions what went on in that residential school. Nothing that sanctions gang rape and torture, sterilization, using children for medical experiments, secret graveyards, forcing children to eat their own vomit, putting glue in their nose, cutting their hair. I’ve read the gospel a fair amount and I find nothing that went on the Residential Schools that is remotely connected to Jesus Christ. To suggest that their motives were missionary zeal is a cover-up; their motives were economic, political, cultural. Their motives were genocide. They were subcontractors in genocide.

The Canadian government shares responsibility and it’s not enough to say, well, the Catholics did it too, Mormans did it to, Lutherans, Presbyterians. That’s not going to wash for whoever did it. It’s not up to the United Church to point to the other Churches. It’s up to the UC to point to themselves and do what they ask every one of their parishioners to do: properly atone, make it right, and stop it and make the damages right. Because people who suffered, they’re paying their medical bills, for their drugs, they’re paying in many ways, some of which are financial. Meanwhile these people are flying all over the place, have big salaries, have big homes and so on. This isn’t going to go away.

They want to jump right to reconciliation without healing; they want to jump to healing without justice and truth. In an aboriginal court, the mandates form a sacred hoop; without truth, nothing else follows. Without truth there can be no justice; without truth and justice there can be no healing; without truth, justice and healing, there can be no reconciliation; and without truth, justice, healing and reconciliation, there can be no prevention of future abuses. And without all of that, there can be no climate to further the search of truth; and so it forms from truth to truth, the sacred hoop. Truth is the center, the core, the foundation.

This “apology” has nothing to do with the truth. This is an evasion, dissembling, obfuscation. But worse: by putting some flowery language in here, some ersatz Indian language… “long before my people journeyed to this land, your people were here, you received from your elders…” It’s ersatz Indian talk. “How. Me Tonto.” It’s “Great Spirit” talk. It’s a caricature and its insulting, demeaning, patronizing, and it won’t wash.

PL: Here’s the “new” apology:

UC: To former students of the UC Indian Residential Schools and to their families and communities: From the deepest reaches of your memories, you have shared with us your stories of suffering from our Church’s involvement in the operation on Indian residential schools. You have shared the personal and historic pain that you still bear and you have been vulnerable yet again. You have also shared with us your strength and wisdom born of the life-giving dignity of your communities and traditions and your stories of survival. In response to our Church’s commitment to repentance, I spoke these words of apology on behalf of the General Counsel and Executive on Tuesday, October 27, 1998: ‘As Moderator of the UC of Canada, I wish to speak the words that many people have wanted to hear for a very long time. On behalf of the UC of Canada, I apologize for the pain and suffering that our Church’s involvement in the Indian residential school system has caused.

We are aware of some of the damage that this cruel and ill-conceived system of assimilation has perpetuated on Canada’s First Nations people. For this we are truly and most humbly sorry. To those individuals who were physically, sexually and mentally abused as students of the Indian residential schools in which the UC of Canada was involved, I offer you our most sincere apology. You did nothing wrong. You were and are the victims of evil acts that cannot under any circumstances be justified or excused. We know that many within our Church will still not understand why each of us must bear the scar, the blame for this horrendous period in Canadian history, but the truth is we are the bearers of many blessings from our ancestors and therefore we must also bear their burdens. Our burdens include dishonoring the depths of the struggles of the First Nations peoples and the richness of your gifts. We seek God’s forgiveness and healing grace as we take steps towards building respectful compassion and loving relationships with First Nations peoples. We are in the midst of a long and painful journey as we reflect on the cries that we did not and would not hear, and how we have behaved as a Church. As we travel this difficult road of repentance, reconciliation and healing, we commit ourselves to work towards incurring that we will never again use our power as a Church to hurt others with attitudes of racial and spiritual superiority. We pray that you will hear the sincerity of our words today and that you will witness the living out of our apology and our actions in the future.
Signed: The Right Rev. Bill Phipps (sp?) of the UC of Canada.

JC: Lets start with the first paragraph:

UC: “From the deepest reaches of your memories, you have shared with us your stories of suffering from our Church’s involvement in the operation on Indian residential schools. You have shared the personal and historic pain that you still bear and you have been vulnerable yet again. You have also shared with us your strength and wisdom born of the life-giving dignity of your communities and traditions and your stories of survival.”

JC: When exactly have residential school victims, other than in court, been allowed to “share” their stories? Every time the residential school victims tried to share their stories, they were called crazy, they were marginalized, demonized and slandered. The churches used various obstructionist and legal tactics designed to bankrupt the victims so they could never get to court. In some cases people who protested or tried to tell the story were murdered; in some cases they lost their tribal connections. For instance, even when we had the Tribunal in Vancouver, we had witnesses intimidated there, one of whom was doing it was indeed on the UC payroll and I personally witnessed that individual intimidating witnesses at the Tribunal. So every time the victims have tried to tell the story with specifics, they have been obstructed. We need specifics, not for salacious detail, but we need to know because these are crimes, crimes that people need to be brought to the bar of justice. We can’t bring them to the bar of justice when the Church continues to seal its archives, when they continue to refuse to get into the specifics, and when they try to get sealed settlements, for example, so the specifics won’t come out in court, when they fight it in court, rather than simply stipulating known and proved truths. So when they said “you shared it”, it’s not because of what the Church has done. It’s actually tried to obstruct residential school victims being able to give specifics and names. In fact, the perpetrators of these crimes, when they were brought to the bar of justice in the few cases, many times got off on technicalities, because the victims weren’t assisted in discovery. So that part there may sound nice but the reality is that only very recently and only with considerable effort have the victims been able to give some of the specifics of what happened to them, and certainly without any help from the Church.

You remember, I gave the document to Rev. Phipps which had his name on it where he had been asked to come to an inter-Tribal Tribunal, and he didn’t attend? That could mean that he was busy, but he didn’t even bother to respond. I gave him a list of all those people from the UC who were asked to be at that tribunal to assist in the discovery process so that people wouldn’t’t have to testify and drag out these demons and suffer more trauma and damage. It has been through no help of the Catholic Church, or the UC or any other churches. We asked them to help uncover the story so that the true story could be told and we could help find out who did what and in some cases bring people to the bar of justice, but without having to make some of the victims bring out the demons and the trauma and having to relive what they had gone through. It would be much easier if they would use their offices to help because they have the archives, the documents, that would help us find out who did what and when. We never got assistance.

PL: ‘As Moderator of the UC of Canada, I wish to speak the words that many people have wanted to hear for a very long time. On behalf of the UC of Canada, I apologize for the pain and suffering that our Church’s involvement in the Indian residential school system has caused. We are aware of some of the damage that this cruel and ill-conceived system of assimilation has perpetuated on Canada’s First Nations people. For this we are truly and most humbly sorry.

JC: Well, in one way that’s a step forward, and it’s a step forward in the sense that it’s not suggesting that what went wrong was how the schools were run, but the problem is in the schools themselves. It’s suggesting that the whole system itself, from its foundations upward, was corrupt and rotten. But again, where did that system come from? Why did that system come about? What was behind it? Was it just psychological aberrations? People just had it in for Indians, is that it? Or thought that Indians would just be better off looking white or acting white? There are concrete material, political, economic, social, cultural, systemic interests behind genocide anywhere it occurs. Genocide doesn’t happen just because one group has a thing for another group. That’s the rationale sometimes. But always behind genocide you find land, resources, markets, interests, profit, power, power projection, imperial conquest, moving somebody out in order to move somebody else in. And so when he said “ill-conceived system,” OK, but why? Where did that system come from and why was it ill-conceived? Ill-conceived by whom and for what purpose. Did they just have a bad day? Just got it wrong? So in one sense it goes a little bit further because some people suggest that it wasn’t the schools themselves that were wrong, but how they were run. But the reality is that any time you try to force your religion on other people it’s wrong. You got no right to take children and beat Jesus into them; or rather your sick, twisted notion of Jesus into them You have no right to declare their culture and spirituality inferior and backward and pagan, and declare your own religion and gospel to be THE TRUTH, THE LIGHT, and anyone who doesn’t accept it does so at the pain of going to hell but more…the pain of being beaten or murdered, raped. So the whole notion of missionary zeal itself assumes this. What right do you have to take your private business and push it on other people, in their faces? Who gave you that right? What’s behind that ill-conceived evil system? There’s no discussion of that, and there again avoidance of the word genocide; and it was a genocidal system. Its intent…all five specifics of Article 2 of the UN Convention on Genocide, were the intent of that system; it happened to too many people. What few of their documents that survive, that they haven’t destroyed, say that clearly; it’s not just about spreading the good word.

About jimcraven10

About jimcraven10 1. Citizenship: Blackfoot, U.S. and Canadian; 2. Position: tenured Professor of Economics and Geography; Dept. Head, Economics; 3. Teaching, Consulting and Research experience: approx 40 + years all levels high school to post-doctoral U.S. Canada, Europe, China, India, Puerto Rico and parts of E. Asia; 4. Work past and present: U.S. Army 1963-66; Member: Veterans for Peace; former VVAW; Veterans for 9-11 Truth; Scholars for 9-11 Truth; Pilots for 9-11 Truth; World Association for Political Economy; Editorial Board International Critical Thought; 4.. U.S. Commercial-Instrument Pilot ; FAA Licensed Ground Instructor (Basic, Advanced, Instrument and Simulators); 5. Research Areas and Publications: International law (on genocide, rights of nations, war and war crimes); Imperialism (nature, history, logic, trajectories, mechanisms and effects); Economic Geography (time and space modeling in political economy; globalization--logic and effects; Political Economy and Geography of Imperialism); Indigenous versus non-Indigenous Law; Political Economy of Socialism and Socialist Construction; 6. Member, Editorial Board, "International Critical Thought" published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; International Advisory Board and Columnist 4th Media Group, (Beijing); 7. Other Websites publications at;;; 8.Biography available in: Marquis Who’s Who: in the World (16th-18th; 20th; 22nd -31st (2014) Editions); Who’s Who in America (51st-61st;63rd-68th(2014) Editions); Who’s Who in the West (24th- 27th Editions);Who’s Who in Science and Engineering (3rd to 6th, 8th, 11th (2011-2012) Editions); Who’s Who in Finance and Industry (29th to 37th Editions); Who’s Who in American Education (6th Edition). ------------------- There are times when you have to obey a call which is the highest of all, i.e. the voice of conscience even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear, and even more, separation from friends, from family, from the state, to which you may belong, from all that you have held as dear as life itself. For this obedience is the law of our being. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
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