Electric Abuse

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



6 thoughts on “Electric Abuse

    • My first reaction as well, but that would be too easy. Canada abolished the death penalty decades ago (interestingly before St. Anne school shut its doors in 1976 – maybe they picked up the chair at a government surplus auction) Murdering these maniacs serves no purpose – placing them in solitary confinement behind bars for eternity and forcing the church to take full responsibility, strikes me as more reasonable justice.

  1. What? We’re not nobly bringing civilization to the ‘uncivilized’?

    It is somewhat heartening to see the 60’s “Scoop” being taught in Canadian History classes, but its still whitewashed to preserve our delicate feelings.


  2. This is the thing… it seems as if new nations (perhaps all of them ) have a way of denigrating First Nations. It’s not just the church. the U.S. did it , other countries have done it — whether or not it was government sanctioned — I have come to believe that it is the state of mind of any who think they have a right to enter into a land where indigenous people live and take what ‘belongs’ to others in one way or another.
    This is terrible and it’s a long way from Canadian Settlement but at the same time I’m sickened by it when I look at the variety of ethnic cleanings we know about in the last 100 years it’s hardly something to be surprised by; the more troubling question is what is it about humankind that makes us (as a species) so willing to close our eyes to the pain we cause others — other humans and other species — and perhaps even the earth as a biosphere.

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