Unsilent Night: A True Christmas Story-by Kevin Annett
Unsilent Night: A True Christmas Story
Maisie Shaw’s Killer: Rev. Alfred Caldwell, United Church Alberni Indian Residential School
I usually write a eulogy for Maisie Shaw at this time of year, but what more can be said about a young native girl who was murdered by a Christian on Christmas eve and then buried in secret? Simply, that she was killed downstairs as churchgoers celebrated Christmas upstairs.
Canada swallowed the crime and Maisie’s memory with ungodly silence, like it does every awkward truth about its homegrown genocide. That has always suited the holiday herd just fine, of course, who prefer their Christmas quiet and undisturbed by the mention of little corpses. But for anyone who won’t trade in remembrance for yuletide cheer, something more than silent nights is needed.
My first Christmas eve as a pastor of the United Church that killed Maisie found me pulling my own child on a toboggan through the deep snow of Pierson, Manitoba. Clare was nearly two by then, bundled to her eyeballs against the prairie cold, and staring up at me like she was privy to an inside secret from heaven. Pausing from my toil, I sensed something of that enigma as a complete quiet surrounded us. A single snowflake landed on my daughter’s perfect face, and her blue eyes seemed to say to me,“Keep listening, Dad”. And sure enough, beneath the silence was a voiceless voice.
Clare was five years old and a big sister when I heard that other voice again. It came from people who Maisie Shaw would have been like if “Reverend” Alfred Caldwell had not kicked her to her death at the Alberni Indian “residential school”. Their mouths did not open and say nothing, like all the people I knew. They spoke an indecipherable language to we of a petrified culture, shattering the careful, killing silence that I once equated with peace and civility. The brown strangers imposed an unsilent night on all that I knew, on my last Christmas Eve in the church that had killed Maisie Shaw.
Since then, the deadly quiet has never returned to me. My days and nights are filled with voices heard only in the desert places, where life stands a chance. And the world around me has become a distant, mute babble.
The truth never requires a lot of words, only hearts in which to root and lives in which to blossom. Both my daughters taught me that before they learned to speak, and they helped me write my best, brief sermons.
As a toddler, Clare’s little sister Elinor loved to take center stage on Sundays by refusing to leave with the rest of the children and insisting that I pick her up. From there, she and I would speak to the church goers who knew not how to speak because they used borrowed words without substance. And like our best but unacceptable friend, my daughter Elinor would bring the dead to life and make the blind see, with the unsilent language of God’s own silent heart.
I ran out of words from my pulpit after a while, especially the more my children and dead children began to speak. Their voices eventually shook the foundations of our City of Babble and toppled the mumbling rulers from their thrones, as a dirt-poor peasant girl named Mary once predicted would happen as she brought God’s beloved one into our world. And one even lower than Mary and closer to home, she called Maisie who was discarded like garbage on a cold basement floor, proved mightier than the child-killing Church and State that have nothing to say, except to those as vacant as them.
Still, the deadly lie persists in a society like ours that is so allergic to life. As Maisie Shaw revealed, upstairs, official Christianity will celebrate itself with dead words this week while downstairs, it continues to kill children in silence. Soon after I had been tossed from the United Church for descending those stairs and learning the truth of what we are, my own children were stolen from me and my life was torn to pieces. And for years, there was nothing to be said that made any difference – there was only a crime to be endured. No protest or petition ever stills the slaughter of the innocents by the King. But neither is the truth ever stopped by any amount of crucifixions or coverups.
Neither my voice nor Maisie’s will echo in the official halls of Chrstendom this week, any more than Jesus’ will. For he was not the welcomed, iconic Prince of Peace of Christmas carols, but according to scripture a poor and hunted refugee at birth, hiding from state assassins like a terrified aboriginal girl. For Jesus’ story, like Maisie’s, is a mirror of the world that we have inhabited and profited from at the expense of our souls: an Upstairs, Downstairs society that feeds off the persecution and suffering of the innocent. And so not surprisingly, that evil is blowing back on all of us now, the overtly guilty and the seemingly innocent.
The other day, my Cree street friend Frank Ermineskin summed up our situation succinctly when he remarked, “Now all you white people are on the Indian reservation, too.” Special passes to travel, mandatory injections, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment without due process of law: none of these COVID police state measures are new for native people in Canada. Those same Indian Act measures are what murdered Maisie Shaw, and 60,000 other children, many of whom were killed in drug testing experiments by Pfizer and other criminal corporations who now are shoving their experimental toxins into the rest of us with the help of drug-pushing politicians.
And so, the crimes we inflicted on children like Maisie Shaw have blown back on us, which is a hard but inevitable outcome of living in a genocidal regime. None of the Canadians who for years ignored the cries of Maisie and our movement to expose our domestic war crimes should expect justice today, since they have brought down upon themselves the very calamity they now protest.
To quote the prophet Hosea, “We have sown the wind and now are reaping the whirlwind.”
This is the voice that cannot be denied. And so welcome to the great silence. But who knows? Perhaps in our collective wilderness, a new sound may be heard by something other than ears that can no longer hear.
Stand by for Part Two: Are we meant to survive? Based on Isaiah chapter 6