By Tom Flanagan and Brian Giesbrecht
MARC MILLER, MINISTER of Crown-Indigenous Relations, has sent out a chilling message by Tweet, as well as by an interview reported in The Globe and Mail, that anyone questioning the “unmarked graves” narrative now playing out across Canada should cease and desist. He accuses writers and their publishers who are asking questions of being “insidious” and “disgusting.” He says that questioning the claims made about unmarked graves is hateful and damaging to all Indigenous people, and detrimental to Canada’s quest for reconciliation.
Since we are presumably two of those “disgusting” writers he refers to, and since THE DORCHESTER REVIEW is one of the publications he implies is “insidious,” it might be a good time to explain ourselves. This can be done by examining the latest assertion about unmarked graves—a claim Minister Miller appears to accept without question.
The allegation is from Williams Lake, B.C. In an article entitled “93 Is Our Number” in the January 25, 2022 edition of the Williams Lake Tribune, Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars is quoted as saying: “…the real story of what occurred at the St. Joseph’s Mission has been intentionally obscured for generations,” noting the recent investigation, which included interviews with survivors as well as poring over historical documents, has revealed “clear evidence that religious entities, the federal government and the RCMP have knowingly participated in the destruction of records, and the cover-up of criminal investigations.”
And what crimes does Chief Sellars allege? Pretty well all the major offences listed in the Criminal Code—murder, gang rape, torture, sexual assault, and deliberate starvation, among other horrible acts. In addition, the Chief accuses priests of throwing babies into incinerators, tossing the dead bodies of children into lakes and rivers, and even calling out over the school’s public address system the names of children whom a priest wanted to sexually assault. The clear implication of Chief Sellars’ claims is that the 93 soil disturbances detected by the ground-penetrating radar are in fact the remains of some of the victims of the crimes he alleges were committed by the priests and nuns at the school.
Such are the allegations that Mr. Miller believes should be accepted without question. In fact, according to Miller, questioning such claims is tantamount to hatred and racism.
BUT THERE ARE problems with these claims. In the first place there is no credible evidence that any such horrendous crimes, or any such massive cover-up occurred. Moreover, all of the salacious crimes alleged by Chief Sellars are found among the conspiracy theories circulating among Indigenous communities for the last few decades.
The stories spread by defrocked United Church minister Kevin Annett are the best known. “Priests throwing babies in furnaces,” “six year olds forced to dig graves,” and “children thrown in pits and rivers” are all there. In fact there are slick movies one can watch containing this vile, predominantly anti-Catholic poison.
Kevin Annett’s film “Unrepentant” can be viewed free on YouTube. The unlimited links that kick up when Googling the man will take you down a dark rabbit hole of hateful tall tales of priests and nuns doing unspeakable things. The church burnings of Catholic churches that occurred this summer become easier to understand after watching and reading some of this filth.
Exactly how much influence this Internet-spewed hatred has had within First Nations is hard to gauge. However, it is clear that it has been around a long time. For example, in 2012 Kevin Annett’s stories had become so popular within the Ontario Mohawk community that they—believing his stories to be true—hired him to represent their claims of unmarked graves and missing children. Exactly what happened between them is unclear—for one thing, Annett falsely claimed that animal bones were those of children—but the Mohawks were forced to publicly denounce Annett and expel him from their community. You can watch them do that here: “Mohawks denounce Kevin Annett.”
So, what is the truth? Are the claims of Chief Sellars true—massive cover-up of the most serious crimes imaginable—or has the Indigenous community accepted stories that are simply untrue?
Here is the choice. We can accept Miller’s warning to accept whatever claim is made by an Indigenous community. Or we can ask questions. Sorry, Mr. Miller, but we choose the latter course.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge of the Manitoba Provincial Court. Tom Flanagan is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Calgary.