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On the first day of Christmas, 1862, 38 Lakota warriors that had participated in the so-called “Sioux Uprising” were hanged at Mankato, Minnesota, without benefit of a jury trial. The hangings were considered to end of the brief US-Dakota War of 1862. (http://www.mnvideovault.org/index.php?id=8009&select_index=0&popup=yes) The mass executions had been approved long distance by President Abraham Lincoln. To his credit, Lincoln, who had very little idea of what had happened in the Minnesota territory, had commuted the death sentences of several hundred other native men who had been captured after the final battle.
The hundreds of imprisoned native survivors, along with the thousands of other tribal members who had not been hanged that day had also - unbeknownst to them at the time - been condemned to exile from their homeland, a slower kind of death, for they were denied their liberty and they were imprisoned, starved to death and ultimately banished from their ancestral home to concentration camps on desolate land that the US government had no use for. The tradition of hunting and gathering that had sustained the First Nations for thousands of years was denied them and then, to make matters even worse, the later discovery of gold on some of that reservation land would result in yet another round of treaty-breaking and ethnic cleansing.so that white European immigrants could occupy and exploit their land. Much of that exploitation was for the economic benefit of land speculators like the future Governor of Minnesota, Alexander Ramsay.
Ramsey had written: “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.” To “cleanse” the land, he had placed bounties on the scalps of the Dakota people, offering up to $200 per scalp. Vigilantes eagerly hunted down the Dakota who had not yet surrendered. It was a “legal” massacre, and none of the white killers went to prison. And none of the “honorable” governmental officials such as Ramsay have been tried, even in absentia, for their crimes against humanity.
On December 27, 1862, the day following the Mankato mass executions, another future Minnesota governor, Henry Sibley, wrote to President Lincoln: “I have the honor to inform you that the thirty-eight Indians and half-breeds ordered by you for execution were hung yesterday at Mankato at 10 a.m. Everything went off quietly and the other prisoners are well secured.” Respectfully, H. H. SIBLEY, Brigadier-General. (http://www.unitednativeamerica.com/issues/lincoln.html)
The next spring, the survivors that had spent a miserable winter imprisoned and dying at Mankato, along with other condemned men that had “survived” the Fort Snelling concentration camp, were again forcibly uprooted from their sacred land. Some were forced to go to Davenport, Iowa where they were imprisoned for an additional three years. The ones that had survived the Fort Snelling incarceration were shipped down to St. Louis and then up the Missouri River to the Crow Creek Reservation in dry and desolate Central South Dakota, an experiment that totally failed after several years of unspeakable suffering and dying.
Enforced by the brutal, trigger-happy and racist US Army, the US government had perpetrated ethnic cleansing/genocide against the original inhabitants of the nation, breaking hundreds of treaties along the way in order to greedily steal their lands, the amoral concept of “Eminent Domain” in action. And shamefully, the Constantinian Christian churches participated in the genocide by cruelly forcing their punitive religion on the Native children with their mission school programs.
The Subject of Ethnic Cleansing is a Taboo Subject Here
And the same thing happened in Canada, with the militarized police (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) enforcing a similar governmental program of genocide against native children further up north. That genocidal story, especially the part about the role of the Canadian churches, has been well-told by my friend Kevin Annett. (See http://hiddennolonger.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/No-Longer-Hidden-1-searchable.pdf for more information on the Canadian genocide.)
Kevin spent a week at my home in Duluth, Minnesota several years ago. Kevin’s week was spent alerting people to the Canadian genocide of First Nation’s children by giving a radio interview, delivering a well-received address to the Lake Superior Freethinkers group, conducting forums at churches and hosting a movie theater screening of his award-winning documentary, “Unrepentant” (view it in its entirety at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88k2imkGIFA.). It was a productive time, although local media chose not to cover any of the week’s events.
The subject of ethnic cleansing in our own backyard is apparently a taboo subject here in Minnesota, as are the many other crimes against humanity and international war crimes that have been perpetrated by the United States during America’s century of perpetual war.
The dirty secret, the “little matter of genocide”, about which Canada, the United States, their militaries and their churches share guilt, is the century-long history of child abuse, neglect, rape, murder and spiritual degradation of tens of thousands of its aboriginal children in church-run Indian residential schools and mission schools, a subject on which Rev Annett is an acknowledged world expert.
Here is an important comment from writer William Annett, who happens to be Kevin’s father, which summarizes some of the background information that makes the following story more understandable.
“Imagine what happens when a church minister in a small Vancouver Island community decides to blow the whistle on criminal activity extending over a century among all the churches of Canada, the Government of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Attorney General of British Columbia, MacMillan-Bloedel (the largest forestry company in that province), and it’s blushing parent, The Weyerhaeuser Company of Seattle, all thinking that it would be nice if Reverend Kevin Annett were quietly blown away. Which they did, quite effectively, trashing his life, his family, his livelihood.
“Of course there was also the mainstream Canadian media and the Canadian public, who have been, as usual, fast asleep on the subject of anything indigenous or genocidal for the past 20 years since the whistle was first blown.
“But the story also has to deal with a little defrocked shepherd boy/pastor who has the most lethal, long range, accurate weapon on earth, The Truth, which is especially potent when it hits us in the middle of the forehead.”
Below is the moving story of Annett’s last Christmas (1995) as beloved pastor of Saint Andrew’s United Church of Canada, Port Alberni, British Columbia. His de-frocking came soon after he challenged a secret land deal involving stolen native land that was negotiated between his church (the United Church of Canada [UCC]), the British Columbian government and church-funder, MacMillan-Bloedel Ltd. He was fired from his parish without cause and expelled from the UCC without due process.
Here is a part of that shameful story.
By Kevin D. Annett
The last Christmas we were all together hangs over memory like the fog did that year in the Alberni valley. It was a time of gathering, two years and more of labor summoning so many together where once there were but a few. And it was a time of ending.
The church stewards had warned me to expect an overflow crowd at the Christmas Eve service, and like overgrown elves they had busied themselves around the building, stringing wires and sound systems in the cold auditorium kept that way to save money. The snows had come early, and our food bank was already depleted.
With my eldest daughter who was but five, I had walked to the church one morning in the week before yule, pondering the cold and the sermon, when I met the one who would pierce the fog that year for us. She stood patiently at the locked door, her brown eyes relaxing as we approached. Her bare hand gestured at me.
“You’re that minister, ain’t you?” she mumbled to me, as daughter Clare fell back and grabbed my hand.
Before I could answer, the stranger smiled and nodded, and uttered with noticeable pleasure at her double entendre,
“They say you give it out seven days a week!”
I smiled too, gripping Clare’s hand reassuringly and replying, “If you mean food, we’re a bit short, but you’re welcome to whatever’s left.”
She nodded again, and waited while I unlocked the door and picked up Clare, who was clinging to me by then.
The basement was even more frigid than the outside, but the woman doffed her torn overcoat and sighed loudly as we approached the food bank locker.
“For all the good it’ll do …” she said, as I unlocked the pantry and surveyed the few cans and bags lying there.
I turned and really looked at her for the first time. She was younger than she had sounded, but a dark, cancerous growth marred her upper lip, and a deep scar ran down her face and neck. Her eyes were kindness, and in that way, very aboriginal.
“I’m sorry there’s not more …” I began, since back then I still saw things in terms of giving. But she shook her head, and instead of saying anything, she looked at Clare, and the two of them exchanged a smile for the first time.
I stared, confused, at the cupboard so bare, and heard her finally utter,
“Them people in church, you know what they need?”
I set Clare down and shook my head.
“They need Him. They sing about Him, and pretend they know Him, but hell, they wouldn’t spot Him even if He came and bit ‘em on their ass.”
I smiled at that one, and even dared a mild chuckle.
“You doin’ a Christmas play for the kids?” she continued.
“I bet it’s the usual bullshit with angels and shepherds, right?”
“That don’t mean nuthin’ to those people. Why don’t you do a story about … well, like, if He came to Port Alberni to be born, right now?”
I finally laughed, feeling very happy. She smiled too, walked over to the cupboard and picked up a small bag of rice. Donning her coat, she nodded her thanks, and said,
“My bet is Him and Mary and Joseph, they’d end up in the Petrocan garage, down River road. The owner there lets us sleep in the back sometimes.”
And then she was gone.
I didn’t try explaining the stranger to anyone, ever, or what her words had done to me. All I did was lock the food cupboard and lead Clare up to my office, where I cranked up the heat and set her to drawing. And then I sat at my desk and I wrote for the rest of the day.
The kids in church were no problem at all. They got it, immediately. The Indians who dared to mingle in the pews that night with all the ponderous white people also took to the amateur performance like they had composed it themselves, and laughed with familiarity as the holy family was turned away first by the local cops, and then hotel owners, and finally by church after church after church.
It was mostly the official Christians who were shocked into open-mouthed incredulity at the coming to life of something they thought they knew all about. As the children spoke their lines, I swear I saw parishioners jump and writhe like there were tacks scattered on the pews.
“Joe, I’m getting ready to have this kid. You’d better find us a place real friggin’ quick.”
“I’m trying, Mary, but Jehovah! Nobody will answer their door! I guess it’s ‘cause we’re lowlifes.”
“Look! There’s a church up ahead. I bet they’ll help us!”
If you believe the Bible, whoever He was loved to poke fun at his listeners and shock them out of their fog, and our play would have made him proud. As the eight-year old girl who played Mary pleaded fruitlessly for help from a kid adorned in oversized clerical garb, and was covered in scorn by the young “priest”, I heard a sad moan rise from the congregation.
But things took a turn when Mary and Joseph came upon an Indian, played by one of the aboriginal kids.
“Sir, will you help us? My wife’s going to have a baby …”
“Sure!” replied the native kid with gusto. “I got a spot in a shed behind the gas station down the road. The owner lets us all sleep in there!”
And in a contrived scene of boxes and cans scattered where our communion table normally stood, Mary had her baby, as erstwhile homeless men with fake beards and a stray Rez dog looked on, and one of the witnesses urged Mary to keep her newborn quiet lest the Mounties hear his cries and bust everyone for vagrancy.
Voices were subdued that night in the church hall over coffee, cookies and Christmas punch, and the normally dull gazes and banalities about the time of year were oddly absent. The Indians kept nodding and smiling at me, saying little, and not having to; and the kids were happy too, still in costume and playing with the local stray who had posed as the Rez dog in the performance that would always be talked about. It was the white congregants who seemed most pregnant that night, but they couldn’t speak of it.
It was one of my last services with them, and somehow they all knew it, since we had all entered the story by then. For a churchly Herod had already heard a rumor, and dispatched assassins to stop a birth, and me, even though it was already too late.
My daughter Clare was not running and rolling with the other kids, but in her manner joined me quietly with her younger sister Elinor in tow. Our trio stood there, amidst the thoughtful looks and unspoken love, and person after person came to us and grasped our hands, or embraced us with glistening eyes. An aging Dutch woman named Omma van Beek struggled towards me in her walker and pressed her trembling lips on my cheek, and said something to me in her native tongue as the tears fell unashamedly from both of us.
Later, when we were scattered and lost, I would remember that moment like no other, as if something in Omma’s tears washed away all the filth and loss that were to follow. And perhaps that looming nightfall touched my heart just then, for I gave a shudder as I looked at my children, almost glimpsing the coming divorce, and I held my daughters close as if that would keep them safe and near to me forever.
The snow was falling again as we left the darkened building, kissing us gently like it had done years before when as a baby, Clare had struggled with me on a toboggan through the deep drifts of my first charge in Pierson, Manitoba, on another Christmas Eve. The quiet flakes blessed us with memory, and settled in love on the whole of creation, even on the unmarked graves of children up at the old Indian residential school.
The old Byzantine icon depicts Jesus as a baby, hugging his worried mother while she stares ahead into his bloody future: her eyes turned in grief to the viewer, yet his loving eyes seeking her, past the moment, past even his own death.
The image may still hang in the basement of my church, where I left it.
Dr Kohls is a retired physician who practiced holistic, non-drug mental health care for the last decade of his career. He is involved in peace, nonviolence and justice issues.