by Kevin D. Annett
The Word Game: we all play it. The dirtier the mess, the more people talk around it: especially Canadians, who never seem to want to offend anyone. And what's more offensive than the sight, or even the thought, of little children ripped to pieces and thrown in a ditch behind a church to decompose in the mouths of vermin? Instead, how preferable to use words that mentally tuck away the horror as deftly as a late-night shovel, tossing in the dirt with each syllable until the gore is safely entombed and expunged. And then, like some post-midnight clean up squad, more words must kick in to erase the erasure that renders the truth into nothing, for that is what the tiny corpses have become.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was not thinking of how an electrode was clamped onto the penis of nine year old Buster Baptiste when he spoke to the media about "Genocide" the other day. Nor did the pitiful screams that went on all night in the cold, terrible dormitories resound in his ears, nor his stomach heave in sickness from the putrid stench of weeks-old corpses unearthed and torn apart by roving rez dogs. He should have vomited in horror, right in front of the TV cameras. Instead, he read from a script. For the flesh from all of those little cadavers is rotted away now, leaving only a desiccated abstraction tucked neatly between the letters "G" and "E".
Official Lies aren't born overnight. They take years to be fashioned from dead remains: about ten years, as a matter of fact, the same time that it takes for the flesh of a child lying in the earth to rot away. There's no coincidence involved.
It's been just over ten years now since Canada's biggest lie officially began to conceal its biggest crime. It's taken that long for children's teeth yanked from their jaws without painkillers to be sanitized into the euphemism called "abuse"; for the features of the corpses to finally melt and bleed away into an indiscernible mush. Years of diligent phrase-crafting were needed to alter the newborn baby's screech of agony into a mere allegation as its tiny body was tossed into the furnace flames by Brother Murphy. The procession of the dead boys and girls that would take more than two days to pass at a rate of one corpse every second required $68 million to be morphed into a column of numbers bearing a precise monetary value. Making the slime digestible is never an inexpensive effort.
Genocide Talk is fashionable and permissible these days in Canada because the word has been bled and emptied of any meaning, and not only by scheming church lawyers and drone-like politicians in Ottawa. The victims and survivors themselves have been tortured into silence and have internalized the stern command to never speak of what actually happened to them. A substitute language is provided for them by their torturers, employing terms like "mistreatment" to describe the taste of rotten garbage in their mouths, shoved there before a nun could see, lest they starve to death like all the other children. In the words of Vera Hunt, who was the sole survivor of a group of nine sisters and cousins interned at the United Church Alberni residential school,
"You could live in their lie or die. Those were your only choices and they still are. My voice is still stuck back in that hell hole and its wings are clipped."
Sometimes the bird finds its wings again, but its cries are intolerable for most of us. During the years when I operated an open-mike radio program in Vancouver's downtown east side, I encouraged anyone with a story to come on the air: especially residential school survivors. Like my previous open-pulpit policy in Port Alberni, not a lot of people took advantage of the offer to first. But one aboriginal woman who never said her name would occasionally appear in the studio and immediately explode in a torrent of cries, sobs and gasping accounts of what had happened to her in Alert Bay. She never fudged her words, never tried to stem the flood of raw terror, of rape and murder. She relived everything, right in front of us, and named those who had done it and were still doing it. And then she would stumble crying from the studio.
The woman's volcanic authenticity infuriated everyone around me: not just the staid pale staffers at Co-op Radio but the other native survivors who helped me with my "Hidden from History" program. They all shrank away from the witness whenever she entered the building, and winced or looked away angrily as her flood of horror filled the air. They all demanded that I bar her from my show. When I refused, their wrath was turned on me, as if I was the one with the problem. Eventually even my most "politically correct" associates agreed that, for the sake of everyone, not only the cries of the witness but my own voice would have to be stilled.
A microcosm of Canada? Yes indeed. But the incident made me recognize my own stifled voice, of how easier it was for me then to speak about other peoples' suffering than my own. For what words are there to describe the agonized screams of my five year old daughter Elinor when she was torn from my arms by a church-funded divorce court order? Or the cold, dead-eyed stare of the men responsible? How do we depict to others, let alone deal with the deliberate torture that is aimed squarely and relentlessly at us, and how it shreds our heart?
The truth is, we can't. We fight back the best we can even in our pain, we hold on to the moments of life even as the darkness descends, but up against the enormous odds of institutionalized crime, we can never make better what has been done. The destruction is too great. The lies and the murders continue unabated despite all of the words. And from out of this madness and our own strangled mouths, other voices try to speak words that distance and distract and delay the truth. And so any chance for life and what may or may not be justice boils down to the first, basic and subversive task of recovering our own voice: not the one we think we know, but our hidden, forgotten and murdered voice, buried alive and struggling to crawl its way out and shout a single word that can shatter and overturn the entire sick arrangement.
"Genocide" used to be such a word in Canada. When I first used it in 1996 to describe our home grown Christian death camps, I was roundly condemned and mocked by pretty much everyone, especially since my use of it was always accompanied with living, bleeding examples. But I kept repeating the word and proved what it was in our time and place, and thereby defined the field of battle. I said "mass murder" whenever the press spoke of "abuse", putting a human face on the crime that nobody, native or pale, wanted to look at. And so eventually those responsible for it knew that they had to co-opt the word and strip it of any life, as efficiently as they had done without hesitation or consequence to entire nations of children.
Nothing is so like God as silence, someone wrote. Perhaps the truth is like that, speechless in the face of human depravity and self-delusion: simply a huge set of eyes, seeing all of the dark and hidden places and knowing a truth so huge and unimaginable that it has no language. "We never talk about what's sacred because there aren't any words for it" said a Nuu-Chah-Nulth elder to me once. Nor are there words for the profane. Maybe in the end that's why we all rely on the false substitutes that say nothing and change nothing.
And yet, in the beginning there was a word, unadulterated and true. That word remains, like the proverbial living stream bubbling beneath the concrete office towers of vested interest and lies. Somehow, we must reach down through all our fears and doubts and extract that word and let it root and finally erupt from our mouths, knowing that it has always resided there. And then like a blast at Jericho, that voice can cause the towers to buckle and collapse, opening all of the secrets and the secret places, even in a place like Canada. For there is nothing that is hidden that will not be revealed - but only by those who find and keep their own voice.
Genocide: the word means, to deliberately kill a people. To kill: not to civilize, or assimilate, or abuse. So who and what are we to have done such a thing? Canadians have never asked themselves that question. Justin Trudeau, by publicly admitting to genocide, said that we are such killers. So what is the proper sentence for premeditated murder? And should the killer himself determine his own sentence, or the terms by which his surviving victims recover? If the killer retains a spark of conscience and humanity, does he not fall to his knees in agony and sorrow, and hope not for his own recovery, but for the lives of all of the innocents he has slaughtered?
I see no such remorse or humanity among my people. I hear only stale and dead words, like the mumbling of lost souls who don't realize that they are dead.
Can a shoot still spring from a slain and fallen tree? We shall see.