In Jesus’ Name: Shattering the Silence of St. Anne’s Residential School is a gritty and horrific look into the abuses inflicted on Indigenous children who were forced into St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario. These children were raped, beaten – even electrocuted in an electric chair that was designed and constructed by the Christian missionaries.
We spoke with the director of the film, Susan G. Enberg, about making the film and what she hopes will come of bringing this dark past to light.
SDTC: There were so many gut-wrenching stories in this film. Which one stands out to you the most?
SE: The fact that the Christian missionaries took it upon themselves to build an electric chair and to use it on the children really brings everything to a new level of insidiousness. I ran across an article online in the fall of 2014 and I had been researching residential schools for a number of years. That’s the first time I had heard anything like that and it blew me away. It should have been front page news across the media for a sustained period and it calls for public inquiry. I would hope that there would be an outcry across the country, right?
How did you reach out to the survivors you interviewed in the film?
I did a lot of research. I wanted to have a solid level of empathy before I spoke with people. I reached out to Edmund Metatawabin, who is my co-producer on the film. He is a survivor of St. Anne’s and an advocate for the survivors in the courts today. He was really grounded in making sure the stories were to get out as well.
I just took a shot and found him on Facebook. I thought, I’m going to send him a message; he responded almost right away. He was able to read my intention. We both agreed that this story needed to get out all across the world. These are Christian missionaries, for crying out loud! And they were brutal – just cruel. Any way you look at it. I don’t mean every one of them, but certainly there was a subculture of cruelty amongst a number of them.
Where do things stand now in terms of the survivors receiving their due compensation?
The bigger issue is that the independent assessment process started in 2007. The government had 40,000 pages of evidence in their possession since 2003. In their statements up until 2009, they said there was no evidence of sexual abuse against any children at St. Anne’s. So they out and out lied.
Then it started to go through the courts in 2013 and Edmund and the lawyers realized they [the government] have all these documents and they’re hiding them, and these could really help the survivors in their hearings for compensation. It was court ordered that the government release the documents, but they redacted them so heavily and they sent them to the lawyers for St. Anne’s survivors in no organized fashion. They essentially dumped 40,000 pages of evidence that were so heavily redacted that nobody could make any sense of them.
Then it had to go back to court to make sure the adjudicators could at least see the unredacted copies. It wasn’t until October 2015 that the IAP secretariat received these in unredacted form. The proceedings began in 2007; the IAP didn’t halt the hearings for the survivors – they essentially put them through without adjudicators having reviewed the majority of the evidence! There’s a sense that any survivors who had their hearings from 2007 to at least the beginning of 2016 may have been either denied compensation or under-compensated. That’s huge!
Also, there’s a ratings scale for compensation. Survivors can only be compensated for the one worst abuse they suffered, even if they were at the school for ten years. Say a boy was sodomized and sexually abused in other ways. He was physically beaten, and he was pushed down stairs. They’re only compensating for the one worst abuse. The electric chair is not even really in there. The lawyers are telling the survivors, “No, we’re only gonna go through with your claim of sexual abuse. We’re not going to ask that you’re compensated for the electric chair.” Why? Because it’s not being recognized as child abuse or torture.
In light of that, is reconciliation possible?
With the government? No. Absolutely not. When we hear our politicians jumping on the bandwagon and talking about reconciliation, 99% of it is rhetoric. And the government is hiding documents. Why aren’t they charged for obstructing the courts of justice? Why aren’t they in jail for doing that? We would be put in jail if we did that. Most Canadians have no idea how many injustices there continue to be.
What do you hope comes of this film?
Originally, I had planned on producing a far more politicized and multi-layered film to include the abuses they’re also going through in the courts. But then, in speaking with a number of people over the course of two and a half years, [I realized] there were so many young people who didn’t know we had residential schools in Canada! Not only do they not have any knowledge that we had residential schools in Canada, but they also didn’t know there were these horrific abuses! Edmund and I realized what needed to be done in regards to the depth and breadth of the severity of abuses. Just to continue waking people up. This is YOUR country that calls itself a democracy.
What is one tangible thing we can do to support the survivors?
Write the Indigenous Affairs minister, the Department of Justice, and say, “Listen, if you truly want reconciliation, you need to stop stalling in the courts, essentially re-traumatizing and re-abusing people who have been through so, so much.” A lot of them are elderly or have died off waiting for their cases to be heard. When somebody is abused so horrifically and so chronically, they don’t ever really leave that childhood. So let’s look at it in the light that these are people, many of whom are in their seventies now, have been paralyzed in this childhood of abuse that they endured. The courts, in fighting the survivors over every little piece of information, are essentially abusing the elders AND the children that remain in the elders.
I really want the Canadian government to acknowledge there was an electric chair and to compensate every survivor, because if they weren’t put into it [the chair] and jolted, they were forced to witness it. Or they were threatened with it. They lived in constant fear. It’s criminal.
In Jesus’ Name will be screened at Reelworld Film Festival, October 15. Get tickets here.