Why Canonize People We Never Noticed?
Thoughts on the Harriett Nahanee Cult
by Kevin Annett, www.hiddenfromhistory.org
Harriett Nahanee of the Pacheedaht Nation died three years ago this week.
You can't listen to a youthful "activist" in Canadian radical - indigenous circles these days without hearing at some point an obligatory reference made to "warrior and elder" Harriett Nahanee, who, although largely ignored by the same activists while she was alive, has suddenly gained a quasi-mystical status in their minds.
Idolizing a stranger is usually the most handy way to dismiss who they actually were and what they were fighting for, and that certainly fits Harriett and her treatment by trendy activists.
I knew Harriett Nahanee for over a decade until her judicial murder, and together we made public the first eyewitness account - hers - of a murder of a child in a United Church Indian residential school: little Maisie Shaw, who was kicked to her death by Rev. Alfred Caldwell in 1946, right in front of ten year old Harriett.
Harriett's post-humous fans never mention this little fact in all their hosannas to her, but to expose Maisie's murder and similar killings of countless children in Christian Indian residential schools was Harriett's purpose in life: something she kept saying, time and again, to the handful of people who would come to our rallies and public meetings from 1995 to January of 2007, just weeks before her death, when I last met her outside the church we were picketing.
The real Harriett Nahanee was ornery, filled with rage, and apt to turn on you if you disagreed with her. She often said that she hated whites and wouldn't work with them, since she didn't trust them. She loathed sharing the spotlight with anyone, because she was consumed with her purpose, like a prophet. And over and over, she spoke out about Maisie's murder and called for the United Church of Canada to be brought to justice.
For years, nobody listened to us, including all the activist groups who claim to own her now. And even today, when it's safer to talk about massive deaths in residential schools now that the Globe and Mail has given official sanction to the issue, the same activists will never mention Maisie Shaw and Harriett Nahanee in the same breath. Indeed, the residential school murders, like Harriett, now seem to be history.
To dismiss the real Harriett and what she was fighting for in this manner is to defame and dishonor her. And the fact that a cloak of misinformation has been imposed on Harriett and her efforts to expose residential school murders is not accidental, since she was killed just a month before the opening of the campaign by our network that would eventually force an "apology" and national exposure regarding the residential schools genocide.
Harriett Nahanee, being aboriginal and an eyewitness to a residential school murder, was not intended to survive to give credence to that campaign. And her relationship with me, which caused the first Tribunal into Canadian residential schools in 1998 and the eventual success of our work, has also faced a deliberate misinformation campaign by the very churches and state that stood to lose by our exposure of their crimes.
The undercover operative who destroyed our 1998 tribunal, Jim Craven, likes to speak on the internet about how I "dishonored" Harriett, including by not attending her funeral, not mentioning, of course, that I was out of the country when it happened. What he's also not mentioning is the letter that Harriett gave me that last time I saw her, that describes the smear campaign started against me by Craven, and how he asked her to be part of it.
So the present falsified image of Harriett Nahanee so espoused by her erstwhile acolytes, as an aboriginal warrior who blockaded roads but whose witness to murder and hatred of the churches is censored out of her activism, is something generated by the very government and churches that killed her. Once again, the capacity of the state to guide and control supposed radical movements with its own version of reality has blinded a new generation of militants to the truth.
Harriett would mourn the fact that, last Sunday, only eight of us stood outside a downtown church with a banner "All the Children Need a Proper Burial", after we had emailed over five hundred people about our action. It's the same place, Christ Church Anglican, where I saw her for the last time. I remember she smiled at me that day, and said how I was the only white man she'd met who cared enough about dead Indian children to protest about them, year after after.
"That will never change" she said sadly. Then she smiled again and said,
"So fuck them all".
I agree with Harriett, and I'll be outside Christ Church cathedral again this Sunday, with a few others. And Harriett Nahanee.