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Annett: Locked out and locked in at St. James Anglican Church

Only Frank and Bingo had passed through the heavy front door when it was abruptly pulled shut by a fearful church attendant.

Turning a key quickly in the lock, the man triumphantly faced the 20 of us and hissed, “You’re not welcome here, any of you!”

The prematurely smug little guy didn’t realize that two of us were already inside the ornate Anglican sanctuary, bearing our banner: “All the Children Need a Proper Burial.” And two Indians, to boot.

While the door guy fussed with his cell phone and called the police, Frank and Bingo were already standing in front of the altar, facing the bewildered congregation with our message. Like two fatal germs in a dying body, they spoke to the church goers and asked them to return the remains of kids who had died in their residential schools in Alert Bay and Lytton, British Columbia and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Like two fatal germs in a dying body, they spoke to the church goers and asked them to return the remains of kids who had died in their residential schools.

Outside, the cops still hadn’t arrived even though the main police station was only a block away. The door guy looked panicked.

“What’s happened to our friends?” demanded Carol, a survivor of a survivor, to the worried flunky.

“You’ve locked them in there! When are you going to let them out?”

Door Man ignored her in his haste to explain to two arriving and exasperated parishioners why he had to lock the church doors.

“It’s them again. ...” I heard him exclaim, beseeching the white couple, unsuccessfully, not to leave.

Vancouver’s slimiest finally arrived, in three squad cars. The cops consulted Door Man and then strode over to me, the lone white guy in our protest.

“Mr. Annett?” a sergeant barked. “You’ll have to wind this down.”

I held out my hand to him, asking his name.

“Ray,” he replied.

“Hi Ray. I’m not in charge here, actually.”

My words seemed to confuse him.

“But you can take it up with any of these folks if you like,” I concluded.

I gestured to the crowd of entirely Native people gathered on the church steps, mostly women and kids, and three drumming elders.

“You’re all trespassing here. ...,” Ray began, only to be inundated by a chorus of voices.

“This is our land! They’re trespassing! You’re trespassing!” yelled Carol, holding up her infant grandson.

“This is his land!”

Rob, a Nishga survivor, began to lecture the other cops about the history of murder in the Indian residential schools, demanding to know why they weren’t arresting those responsible.

The police looked vaguely embarrassed. One of them appeared downright guilty. After a minute more of Rob’s harangue, the guilty-looking cop sputtered, “Okay, look, if you can get a court order evicting this church from here, naturally we’d have to enforce it!”

The church building seemed to shudder and groan.

Door Man suddenly appeared and motioned frantically to the cops, as Frank and Bingo and an unknown Native woman emerged from around the corner, holding aloft the banner and grinning from ear to ear.

We all cheered and applauded them.

Bingo, clearly loving the moment, regaled us with a blow-by-blow account, as Door Man and the cops scowled at us.

“The priest, he didn’t know what to do! Every time they all said ‘Lord, hear our prayer,’ I’d yell at them, ‘No, hear my prayer!’”

“I handed out all the leaflets,” the woman told us. “They all took them. A guy even shook my hand, said to keep it up!”

Sergeant Ray felt he had to act like a cop or something. He approached me again.

“You have to move off these steps. You can protest down on the sidewalk.”

I just smiled at Ray. It didn’t seem to bother him that much, but it sent Door Man into a fit.

“You people held us hostage for 40 minutes the last time you did this!” he exclaimed.

“We lost 50 parishioners because of you!”

I smiled at him and replied, “All right!”

I gestured to the crowd of entirely Native people gathered on the church steps, mostly women and kids, and three drumming elders.

The cops were beginning to get that edgy, trigger-happy look, now that they were feeling so impotent. Sensing some impending head-busting, I consulted the elders, then went over to Sergeant Ray and said, “Will you guys leave if we move to the sidewalk?”

Ray said yes. So we moved.

After the cops were gone, we walked back up the church steps and resumed our drumming and singing.

I turned just then to Bingo and Frank, and marveled at their great courage, of being locked in a church with their abusers, and of carrying on anyway, tiny in number, but unbeatable.

Radiant, I reached over and hugged Bingo, saying, “I love you guys.”

“I love you too, man,” Bingo said quietly.

The rain started spitting again and the elk soup and bannock that awaited us was just too tempting. So, letting out a final, joyous cheer and a prayer for the missing children, we left for the moment.

The churchgoers were still locked inside.

Kevin Annett is a community minister who lives and works in Vancouver. He is the author of two books and producer of an award-winning documentary film on genocide in Canada.