By Heidi Bevington–After a decade of work to repatriate ancestral remains from museums, the Old Massett and Skidegate repatriation committees have a new and painful task before them.
An estimated 50,000 aboriginal children died in residential schools, and the committees decided to assist in the repatriation of their remains. “It was a very difficult subject to talk about, and one that we had to be absolutely sure that we could do, and the committee voted unanimously to do,” according to Andy Wilson of the Skidegate committee.
The committees will learn more about the project in January when Rev. Kevin Annett visits the islands. Rev. Annett, of the All People’s church in New Westminster, has been working with residential school survivors for the last ten years.
His work began in Port Alberni where he was a United Church minister between 1992-1995. He began hearing stories about residential school from survivors. When he presented church officials with his findings, he said, he was fired.
Rev. Annett continued to be involved in the issue. He began attending a healing circle in Vancouver in 1996, and in 1998 attended a tribunal where survivors shared their stories. The residential school experience involved more than physical and sexual abuse, he said. Survivors shared stories of murder and sterilization. It was a common practice for healthy children to be put in beds with children dying of tuberculosis and other diseases, he said resulting in a dead rate of about 50-percent.
There is a “move among survivors to recover the remains of those who died in residential school,” said Rev. Annett.
For more information, Rev. Annett recommends two internet sites. http://canadiangenocide.nativeweb.org and www.hiddenfromhistory.org.
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