What really forced the change: Remembering the spark that ignited the present storm by Kevin Annette

ome haughty critic of mine announced the other day that “We know all about the genocide in Canada!”

Indeed you do, because we taught you about it.

Perhaps I’ve become a kind of ghost now, driven from your midst and lingering in the margins, but I and those like me have left an indelible mark on all of you, even on those who know nothing of these events; for we changed everything.

Here is a moment that altered the soul of Canada.

In those days, we’d put out the word and within an hour a crowd of fifty or more men and women would gather from all over the downtown east side of Vancouver: hungry people, drawn partly by the food and coffee they knew was offered after the protest, but also armed with a justifiable grudge against those fancy church cathedrals and the drones who ran them.

Back then, I’d walk around the streets and gather people in the ones and twos, and rally them outside the Carnegie Center that we’d renamed the Brodie Place after Steve Brodie, who’d led the local sit down strikes of 1938 that won unemployment insurance. Better to call our community center after a rabble rousing radical than some robber baron industrialist, we figured. And from the steps of that place, I’d raise the standard of our movement and even more people would start flocking around it: a worn banner that would one day even flutter outside the Vatican, and read “All the Children Need a Proper Burial”.

We’d already carried that banner into several local churches during their Sunday services, disconcerting the priests to no end and confusing the lazy cops who’d eventually show up and try to look like they were in charge.

“It’s about all the kids these churches killed” I’d inform the head cop when he asked what we were doing, and my words would confuse the police even more.

But this particular Sunday, things were different. The church brass had had enough, it seemed, and they’d ordered those occupations by wild Indians to stop. So as I stood on the steps of Brodie Place that March morning in 2007 and gathered all of the familiar faces around me, across the street a formidable phalanx of cops started assembling.

Such a coordinated effort by Vancouver police was unusual, since more often than not those particular boys in blue were off somewhere raping or hustling hookers, or beating up local drug dealers for being slow on their payoff payments or for cutting in on the cops’ own dealing. So I was surprised when the police mob coalesced, and began gazing at me with a clearly nasty intent.

One of them sauntered over to me and asked me if I was Kevin Annett.

“You mean you don’t know by now?” I replied.

“What are you planning today, Mr. Annett?” continued the young cop, blushing slightly.

“We’re having a protest, which you must also know”

“Do you plan to go into any church service?” he said sternly.

“Is that illegal?” I replied.

He seemed stumped by the question, and so I filled him in on the law.

“Section 176 of the criminal code says we can’t stop the clergyman from performing his duties, so we won’t”

“Well, if you give me your word you won’t …” said the cop, trying to sound intimidating.

“I just said we won’t”

An elderly native woman named Maggie began berating the wannabee cop just then, freeing me to brief our little army about that day’s plan.

Maggie hated cops. One night I saw her personally drag a police barrier across Main street in front of the cop shop, screaming the whole time, as she led a dozen other Indians in an impromptu protest, demanding that one of their friends be released from jail. Maggie didn’t budge until friend Trevor staggered out of the police station hours later, beaten and bloodied, but beaming.

Other happy faces now long departed were in our crowd that Sunday morning: Bingo Dawson, half drunk of course, but even more articulate because of it; Billie Combes, sad as always and barely to see past his pain, but determined “not to let you guys down”; and big Ricky Lavallee, dragging along a two string guitar he’d found somewhere with which he kept our spirits alive with his home made, terrible songs.

I led them all west, down Hastings street, and we picked up more friends along the way, like in one of those movie scenes where hordes of stampeding warriors stream down from the hills to join an ever expanding rebel army.

We were known by everyone in the Hood back then, and semi-conscious guys waved their support and give us a thumbs-up from the alleyways that morning. They knew where we were heading, as did every cop in town.

Knowing this, we expected to be met by the usual wall of official thuggery when we got to the big roman catholic cathedral on Dunsmuir street, another place named after another filthy robber baron. But our better angels had cleared a way for us that morning, like they’d done for Moses and the escaping multitudes out of Egypt. The church doors stood wide open, and not a security guard or a policeman was in sight.

“Holy fuck” announced Bingo.

“Yeah, it’s a sign, alright” I answered him. “Let’s go in!”

I had been joined by then by the hereditary chief for the local Squamish people, Kiapilano, and the two of us led our motley crew into Holy Rosary Cathedral.

We stopped briefly inside the front entrance, and then dressing our lines, we walked slowly towards the front of the church and the two priests who pretended to be essential links on a transmission belt to eternity.

The senior cleric saw us first, and he went even paler than he already was.

The guy’s name was Glen Dion, and his own cook told me a month later that “Reverend” Dion had stolen at least $600,000 from the local parish funds, including by taking a personal cut from the collection plate at every mass. So Glen obviously had a lot to be scared of.

“Get out of here!” he barked at me and Siem Kiapilano as we approached. We ignored him, and turned to face the startled parishioners, who were struggling through a ponderous hymn. Our army of light gathered around us, and three homeless guys held up high our banner for all of the pew crowd to see.

The organist kept playing the same tune over and over, hoping we’d leave, I guess. But it got kind of ridiculous after awhile, and the priest told him to cut it out. Then the other man of god grabbed me by the arm and gave it a sharp twist.

“We’ve asked you to leave!” he hissed at me, his eyes staring daggers.

“And we’ve asked you where the children who you killed are buried” I replied quietly.

The arm twister stormed away in a huff, maybe to pray or something, although I doubt it. But Glen the Thief stayed put, trying to look like he was in charge, as Billie and Ricky and many others moved among the church crowd, handing them leaflets that explained what their church had done and was still doing to innocent children.

“Beautiful” Kiapliano said to me as he gazed around, and I smiled and nodded back at him. The moment was sublime, and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if a heavenly chorus had have burst into song just then.

The priests were powerless, for once, and stood there like their counterparts must have done when a ragged Jew tried a similar number on another polluted Temple, long before. And the folks in the pews were mostly curious, or even awed, by what was happening.

Suddenly, the clan mothers among us sensed the right moment, and one of them began drumming slowly and singing an ancient message in her own language. She began to lead our group from the place.

Incredibly, as we walked out of the church holding aloft our call to remember 50,000 lost children, the entire congregation spontaneously stood as one body.

The cops were still absent when we emerged joyfully from the cathedral, cheering and laughing, and hugging each other in triumph.

Billie Combes was especially happy. He used to get physically ill whenever he saw a crucifix, since that’s what hung above him when the the priests at the Kamloops residential school tortured him on their rack in the school basement. But that day, emerging from the place of the enemy on which he had counted such a coup, Billie was a new man.

“I never thought I could do that” he said to me, incredulous, and twenty years younger.

“We did it together, man” someone said.

The keystone cops did finally arrive as we were dispersing, and a sergeant announced to those of us who remained that we couldn’t go into the cathedral.

“We did already” I informed him.

“Well, don’t do it again!” he yelled at our smiling mob.

I wanted to tell the cop that there was no need to go back into the place. The citadel of darkness had already fallen.

For the message was true, after all, I realized as I walked away in triumph with the others: The mighty and the wealthy have been driven from their thrones and sent away empty, and the poor and despised are inheriting the world promised to them.

I know. I was there when it happened.

~ by cloudslikemountains on November 12, 2012.

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