Hidden from History:
The Canadian Holocaust
Murdered by the Roman Catholic Church:
Virginia Baptiste, 1950-2004
May She Continue to Inspire and Lead Us!
Another fighter, gone. Another witness, gone. Another dead Indian, denied the chance to see justice in her lifetime.
I felt all of these anquishes in my heart when I heard that Virginia had died today. But most of all, I mourned that one like me, a fighter for the truth, was gone from my side, when we had planned and hoped for so much together.
The Catholic Church murdered Virginia by deliberately destroying her metabolism and health when she was a young child in their internment camp called the Cranbrook Indian Residential School. It also murdered her brother Bugs by driving him to suicide after having tortured him as a boy with an electric cattle prod to his penis, and locked him naked in a closet for days on end, simply because he hadn’t learned the Ten Commandments.
Most Indians don’t survive these crimes for long. Their minds and bodies are programmed to self-destruction by the Genocide machine that comes in the guise of Christianity. And Virginia knew she didn’t have much time to speak out about the obscenities that were done to her and her brother and countless of her people.
But the miracle was that she did speak out, for as long as she drew breath. And with no influence, no money, and no support, she began to move the immovable mountain of Official Denial in the church that had crushed her Osoyoos people for so long.
Perhaps that’s why Virginia died so suddenly today. For she had become a royal pain in the butt to the Catholic church and the local police around Oliver, British Columbia, whom she publicly confronted and condemned for their assaults on native people in their prison. Was it really a “heart attack” that carried her off, so unexpectedly, in the Penticton hospital?
After Virginia began to hold public protests, the cops threw her son in their prison and beat the crap out of him, but that still didn’t stop her. She continued to denounce the crimes against Indians of the past and the present, even as her body collapsed under diabetes, and as she went blind and was confined to a wheelchair. Just near the end, she began to name where the mass graves of her murdered people are located. Maybe that’s what caused her death.
I honour Virginia for her devotion and fearlessness. A sick, aging woman, she nevertheless did better than any of the younger and healthier tribal leaders in her territory. For as they talked and postured and did nothing for residential school survivors, Virginia staged rallies and protests outside Catholic churches and government offices, and decried the indifference of her neighbours. She burned with an anger and a passion that put them all to shame, for she carried the truth that murder had been done and was going unpunished. She remembered the slaughtered children and brought them alive again. As we all must continue to do.
Virginia often used to look at me with an amused expectation, as if wondering whether she was finally beholding a white guy who was willing to risk something for an Indian. I like to think that I had won my spurs already by my own losses for speaking out, but it was never enough for Virginia, who didn’t worry about words or reputations as much as results.
“We’ve got to make them admit what they did” she proclaimed every few minutes to me, over the phone or in her living room. “It ain’t enough to call them names. We gotta invade their churches on a Sunday morning and say ‘Look at us! You didn’t kill us all off! We’re still alive and we remember what you did to us! And you’re going to answer for it, for all of it!”
Maybe Virginia knew that her time was short, which is why nothing was ever enough for her. She was completely impatient for justice: not for herself, but for her son, cold and bleeding in the Oliver jail, and for all the survivors of the Cranbrook “school” who are left to suffer with their pain and die alone and forgotten. And she could never understand how I could be so patient when people were dying all around us.
Virginia is gone from us now, but she’s not at rest. She never will be, for the suffering ones don’t rest either. Virginia will always stand astride the doorway of a church or a jailcell, crying out against the crimes committed within, and the indifference committed without. And in her cries I hear a sad mourning for all that she could have done but never did, for the kids who will die tomorrow because she’s not around anymore to fight for them and shake things up.
I have a duty to Virginia that doesn’t come out of guilt or regret. Nor does that duty even come from the shocking realization that I could go Virginia’s way any day now, and so I’d better do what I can in the moments left to me. Most basically, I don’t want to spit on Virginia’s grave, which is what I’d be doing if I didn’t carry on her work and passion.
What about each of you? The people who know the truth, but huddle in safety or fear or complacent nothingness? Does Virginia’s suffering and sacrifice mean anything to you? Enough to make you change and become restless for what’s right?
Another fighter, gone. Another witness, gone. Another dead Indian, denied the chance to see justice in her lifetime. The clock ticks on, and the ones who know the truth keep dying off, until one day the criminals will be home-free and safe, with no-one to thank for their safety but you and I.
Must it always be like this? Virginia, and I, are asking you.
Kevin Annett / Caoimhin Annaid
Listen to Virginia's testimony on this website: