Today I learned something vile and unimaginable – systematic torture of Canadian aboriginal children in the name of the Lord. A story to eradicate preconceived notions or understanding of abuse in Canadian residential schools. News that shattered my grasp of physical or sexual abuse at the hands of “Christian” educators. A story told by Edmund Metatawabin to Shelagh Rogers on CBC radio – a frank, matter of fact account of children strapped in electric chairs at St. Anne’s residential school in northern Ontario.
“The little ones first,” recalls Edmund Metatawabin to the Wawatay News in July. “And I was, I think, about number seven or eight, meaning I was one of the smaller ones.”
The children sat on a wooden seat with their arms strapped to a metal chair. A Brother held a wooden box with a crank ready to send the electric charge.
“Your feet is flying around in front of you, and that was funny for the missionaries,” Metatawabin says. “So all you hear is that jolt of electricity and your reaction, and laughter (of the Catholic school administrators) at the same time. We all took turns sitting on it.”
Between 1904 – 1976, thousands of aboriginal children were taken from their families at age 5 or 6 – sentenced to 10 months a year at St. Anne’s in Fort Albany Ontario. On the surface, an institution among scores of church run schools sanctioned to “civilize” Indians. In reality, St. Anne’s is considered by members of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee as Canada’s most abusive church run institution. Run of the mill sexual and physical abuse dished by good Christians at most schools, paled to St. Anne. St. Anne residents were forced to eat their own vomit and feces, and lets not forget the electric chair.
In January of this year, Ontario Lawyer and advocate Fay Brunning rejoiced when provincial courts ruled the Federal government must turn over documents related to St. Anne. The ruling ruffled staunch government denial and refusal to acknowledge electric chair shenanigans took place for the amusement of Christian missionaries. As a result of the ruling, residential school survivors of St. Anne needn’t prove the “level of abuse” in order to receive compensation under the Residential School Settlement Act.
“The sight of a child being electrocuted and their legs waving in front of them was a funny sight for the missionaries and they’d all be laughing.” – Edmund Metatawabin