Long before the House of Commons found Canada guilty of genocide through the Indian Residential Schools (IRS), there was one person who claimed to recognize the genocidal aspects of the schools. Long before news broke of 215 children’s remains being found in an old apple orchard near a former residential school, there was one person who exposed the killing fields of the IRS. Long before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) convened, there was one person listening to “Survivors” and believing them: Kevin Annett.
Kevin Annett was ordained as a Presbyterian United Church minister in May 1990 and assigned to St. Andrew’s United Church in Port Alberni, B.C in July 1992. Anxious to establish his ministry in the small community, Annett noticed that his congregation was almost entirely white despite there being many Indigenous people in the area. As an attempt to attract Indigenous congregants, Annett began holding open house meetings where people were invited to discuss whatever was on their mind. Annett was soon hearing stories from former students of the Port Alberni Indian Residential School.
Two years earlier while Annett was in Manitoba, former Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Phil Fontaine spoke of the sexual abuse he experienced and inflicted while attending Fort Alexander IRS. Now Annett was hearing former IRS students in Port Alberni describe similar experiences of abuse and worse. Annett soon realized that what these former students were telling him sounded like what he knew of genocide: the Holocaust.
Annett discovered that a Canadian Holocaust had been hiding in plain sight, not so much because anyone tried to hide it but because no one wanted to listen to the former students and believe the Survivors. Worst of all, Annett was confronted with the horrible truth that his own church was complicit in this genocide: the United Church ran the Port Alberni school from 1925-1973.
After trying to wrest an admission and some atonement from the United Church (UC) and being rebuffed in those efforts, Annett began publicizing the testimonials he had received, many of which he recorded on video. Annett soon established himself as someone former IRS students could trust, and other students from other residential schools began coming to him with their stories of heinous crimes. Before long Annett realized that what had happened at Port Alberni happened at many other former residential schools: Port Alberni was one cog in a system of IRS genocide across Canada.
Unsuccessful at getting the UC to confess its crimes against humanity, Annett started to publicly accuse the UC of committing and concealing genocide. After several warnings from his superiors to desist, the UC revoked Annett’s ministry on January 23, 1995. Annett claims the UC went further in punishing him by withdrawing their sponsorship of his Ph. D and financing his wife’s divorce.
Annett continued collecting video testimony from former IRS students and a veritable catalog of Auschwitz horrors was recorded. Mass murder by school staff exposing students to other students infected with TB. Medical experiments conducted on children. A Kuper Island student injected in 1939 by German-speaking doctors. Another student injected with something that knocked her out, then woke up later to find herself battered and bruised with all of her gold teeth missing. Students sterilized with X-ray bombardment of their pelvic areas. Echoing the death squads of the SS Einsatzgruppen, students were lined up at a pit and shot. Students were forced to dig graves for other students. Babies were thrown alive into incinerators, including one baby born to a 7-year-old girl. The late Queen Elizabeth II herself was directly implicated in the kidnapping and disappearance of 10 Indigenous children like some demonic reenactment of the old nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians.” This is all on video from people who said they attended IRS. “Believe the Survivors,” right?
Kevin Annett claimed that Queen Elizabeth personally kidnapped 10 children from the Kamloops Indian Residential School during her visit to Canada in 1964. Queen Elizabeth never even entered the Province of British Columbia during that visit.
In Vancouver, B.C, 1998, Annett organized the first human rights tribunal into crimes allegedly committed at Indian Residential Schools, an early if amateur precursor to the TRC. The tribunal found Canada and several churches guilty of genocide under all clauses of the UN Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Notwithstanding the publicity that the tribunal garnered, it was not enough to coax a fulsome reckoning nationally and internationally. Undaunted, in February 2000 Annett formed what he calls “the first permanent inquiry into these crimes, The Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada.” In January 2001, Annett published “Hidden from History: The Canadian Holocaust.” While on trial for hate speech a few years after the book came out, former AFN Grand Chief David Ahenakew pleaded that “he was a victim of a Canadian Holocaust.”
Annett deduced that, given all the testimony of murder that he was hearing, there must be a large number of secret burials near the schools. Annett estimated that as many as 50,000 Indigenous children were killed at the schools (in recent years he has asserted that as many as 100,000 children were killed). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself only found death records for about 800 students, a discrepancy that Annett attributed to the TRC’s corruption and conspiracy to conceal
In Spring 2008 Annett released a list of 28 sites across Canada where he believed there were secret graves, including the now infamous orchard near the Kamloops IRS . The Kamloops This Week reported that Annett said: “(H)e has eyewitnesses who will testify to witnessing several burials in the land adjacent to the old residential school and the surrounding orchard.” Then Chief Shane Gottfriedson had his doubts but said he and the band council would look into it: “We will definitely take it very seriously.”
“Blood libel” is a medieval antisemitic conspiracy theory that claimed Christian children were being taken by Jews and murdered so their blood could be used in secret religious ceremonies.
Another site Annett listed was the Mohawk Institute at Brantford, ON. In the Spring of 2011 Annett convinced members of the Six Nations to let him search the area for unmarked graves. After several weeks and with the help of a psychic, Annett excavated a spot and found skeletal remains. Annett announced to media, without informing the Six Nations prior, that skeletal human remains had been found. These bone fragments were later proven to be animal and the Mohawks denounced Annett.
At another of the 28 sites Annett listed, Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton, 34 excavations were completed in 2022, yet no human remains were found. Papaschase Elder Fernie Marty said, “No bodies, no bones of any kind, no human remains, so that’s a good thing. Now to find where the bodies did go to. Where did they go?” The impetus to dig at Camsell seems to have come from the Kamloops news story eighteen months earlier.
Annett has been wildly successful disseminating the idea of unmarked graves. No. 75 of the TRC’s 94 recommendations calls for “the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried, “ (emphasis mine). In 2022 the Trudeau government appointed an Independent Special interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites associated with Indian Residential Schools, Kimberly Murray, who had previously served as the Executive Director for the TRC.
Murray recently released her interim report on unmarked graves and missing children. Besides calling for legislation to combat “residential school denialism”, she wants laws enacted to grant First Nations control of all former school sites (not all were on reserve lands and where former cemeteries are known or found to now be private land, she wants government to expropriate the land and hand over control to FN groups). Murray wants the government to force private property owners to allow Indigenous researchers access to search for suspected graves. Whereas Annett concocted a litany of official-sounding organizations to drape himself with and used these paper extensions of himself to issue summons and verdicts, Murray has the ear of the federal government and a political gambit that Annett can’t attempt.
Kimberly Murray has held a series of high-profile positions on the Federal government’s Residential Schools file. She publicly calls for laws limiting speech for so-called “denialists”.
Murray can make an appeal to “Indigenous law.” Annett has largely tried to couch his legalisms in terms of existing (i.e., codified) law but Murray can invoke an entirely different legal system that has the sentimental authority of being Indigenous. Indigenous law isn’t really a legal system per se because it isn’t codified; but the auspices of First Nations privilege provides her with a greater potential for getting her way than Annett’s nation of one, the “Republic of Kanata.
Annett’s determination of an IRS genocide seems to have coloured the testimonials he continued to collect and it would appear that either people were willing to tell him things that sounded like the Holocaust or the residential schools were remarkably similar to well-known aspects of the Holocaust. In either case, Annett seems to believe what he is saying: the schools were “death camps” All that remained was to find the bodies.
The temptation to be an iconoclast seems to have gotten the better of Annett; and when he was thwarted by the United Church et al, it only reinforced his convictions and he chose the subterranean flanking typical of cranks, conspiracy theories. So, it is not at all surprising that Annett condemned the TRC when it concluded that the IRS had only been a cultural genocide. Lead commissioner Justice unqualified genocide but could not on the basis of the evidence before him. Nevertheless, Sinclair hedged his bet in the TRC’s 94 Recommendations.
Speaking to APTN Investigates in the wake of Annett’s Brantford shenanigans, then TRC Executive Director Kimberly Murray said, “One of the questions we ask every Survivor that … provides a statement to the TRC, is ask them if they know of any burial grounds attached to the school or if they know what happened to any of the children that died at the schools.” Referring to former IRS students as “Survivors” emphasizes that Murray and by extension, the TRC, were already conceptualizing the residential schools in terms of the Holocaust.
Annett blazed the trail to reifying genocide; he concluded that there was a Canadian genocide well before the accusation became commonplace. He’s been trying to support his verdict with proof ever since. Finding bodies is the holy grail of the Accusers, and the mythical unmarked graves serve as a tantalizing hope of finding that grail just a few feet below the surface.
Annett’s monomania prevents him from contemplating what happens if the bodies aren’t found. With actors like Murray, however, they know the risks of digging up nothing: career ending exposure. In Part 2 we will examine how Kimberly Murray stages the blood libel of a Canadian genocide.