Protesters demand info about Aboriginal students’ deaths
Ashley Bhan/For MEtro Vancouver
Two dozen protesters interrupted morning mass for downtown Vancouver churchgoers on Easter Sunday claiming the Holy Rosary Cathedral was involved with the deaths of Aboriginal students in residential schools.
The protest was held by members of The Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared, a grassroots group formed to demand the whereabouts of hundreds of Aboriginal residential school students’ bodies.
"Today’s an important day and we want people to pay attention to what we’re saying," Johnny Dawson, 50, a former Alert Bay residential school student, said. "They’ve had deaf ears for the past 50 years. We want answers to what happened to those murdered kids."
From 1863 to 1984 many Aboriginal children were taken from their homes and placed into boarding schools around B.C. The schools were run by churches of various denominations and the Canadian government.
Protesters claim many students died because of poor living conditions and suffered physical abuse including rape.
Rally organizer Kevin Annett said he believes there are mass graves and it’s the church’s responsibility to reveal where they are.
"We’re tying to get the churches to acknowledge what happened and to provide some answers."
Protester Amy Vaughan, 32, said it’s her duty as a Canadian to help find the bodies.
"I’m an eighth generation Canadian. My ancestors were a part of what happened. I want to support these people and help uncover the truth," she said.
The archdiocese did not comment yesterday, but Archbishop Raymond Roussin apologized earlier this month to residential school students during an event in Vancouver, which was part of a nationwide healing process between the churches and Aboriginals.
"The system itself was deeply flawed," he said then. "As Archbishop of Vancouver, I express my deep regret and I apologize for any wrongs committed here."
The noise from the rally was enough to catch the attention of churchgoer Cecilia Yuan. She said the protesters have a right to rally because Canada is a democracy.
"They pick days like this to be seen and heard. This issue is important to them like Easter is important to us," Yuan, 56, said. "I don’t know about the history, but understanding and forgiveness is the key to solving the problem."
The rally was peaceful, but police removed three protesters who entered the church.