“The trip to the residential school often started with an ominous knock on the door.” That is a quote from the executive summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report of 2015. A painting by Ken Monkman that was on display in the Winnipeg Art Gallery showed this well. It was the start of what by the UN analysis was genocide—i.e. the forcible removal of children from their families. That is considered genocide. Not the same as Nazi genocide, but all genocides are different. We should remember that. Often we don’t.
These were acts of unforgivable and despicable arrogance that often created horrendous trauma for the children. Much of this trauma created post-traumatic stress that in turn ruined the lives of the children and their children. It flowed from generation to generation like a poisoned stream.
Monkman’s painting shows a small wooden house: a simple bungalow with multicoloured tiles stretching to roof. Dense bush and open fields flank the home to the east, and to the west, dark and foreboding clouds form in the sky.
Three children run from the home at full sprint. Their backs are turned to the viewer as they race for the bush in the distance. Birds look as ominous as those in Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds. The scene they are fleeing — the one transpiring in front of the house — is pure chaos. Terror is immanent. It soaks right through the paint. It touches us as viewers.
Seven Mounties are dressed in traditional clean red uniforms mainly used for ceremonies. One of them stands on the house’s front porch with his arm extended to the side, pointing at three children trying to escape. Their backs face us. Will they escape? This can’t end well.
The other police officers are spread out in front of the home. One of them stands to the side holding a rifle. Why does he hold a rifle? What does he need that for? The others are snatching Indigenous children away from their wailing mothers. Perhaps they think of them as savages. Two priests and two nuns help carry out the kidnappings. Who are the savages in this painting?
In the centre of the frame is a mother wearing a long blue dress. She lunges forward, reaching out for her child, who is being carried off by a bearded priest in an ominous black robe with a large wooden crucifix dangling from his neck. Think about that—a child kidnapped from his loving mother and delivered by police into the arms of a priest in a black robe. We know what happened after such events. The horror runs deep.
One mother’s fingers clasp air while her child eludes her. Two Mounties restrain her, grabbing her dress her arm and her hair, taking hold of anything they can to separate her from her child. What would you think if you were that mother? What would you have done? Would you have been destroyed for life? The Mounties are committing a crime authorized by law. It is a national crime. A shame on the country.
The mouth of one mother is open. You can see the deep horror in her face. Her face is frozen in to a scream like the painting by Edvard Munch. She is fighting against all odds to save her child. There is nothing that can be done. Law and power are not on her side. There are other mothers too, fighting to save their children. Perhaps they will succeed. Perhaps not. Perhaps the children fleeing to the bush will escape their would-be captors. What do you think? At least one mother seems to have given up hope. It seems certain. Her child will be taken. How do you fight the law?
The children look terrified. The law and religion are after them and they mean them harm. They don’t see any “good intent” around them. Only terror.
In Manitoba today I read about 7 Conservative politicians who as far as I know never uttered a word about such horrors. But today they are horrified at the lawless destruction of property. That concerns them deeply. Today they claim that people should be held accountable for pulling down a couple of statues of 2 English queens. Some people have also set fire to churches. I condemn that too. Let me be clear, I don’t advocate destruction of property, whether public or private, but is this really the most important thing we should worry about right now? Is this what we should be horrified about?
I also saw a post on Facebook today that said: “Be thankful, we only come for your statues, when you came for our children.’ The “crimes” hardly seem comparable. What do you think?