A perfect crime, the disappearance of indigenous children?

In his preface to the book Auassat, in search of missing indigenous children, by Anne Panasuk, Anichinabe Richard Ejinagosi Kistabish speaks of a “perfect crime”. He recounts how, while he was acting as a liaison and translator for the Department of Indian Affairs in 1971, he was asked to go and have the parents sign forms so that their children could go to residential school. In these forms, a very small clause, on the back, stipulated that the parent thus gave “the permission and the authorization to the representative of the Queen to make all the decisions concerning the well-being of my child, in education, health and any other question concerning him ”.

“It is a form of consent to abandon authority [parentale] Writes Richard Kistabish, who, after discovering this clause, refused to have the parents sign the form.

This practice, like many others which dispossessed indigenous parents of all authority, is documented by Anne Panasuk, in this account which bears the fruits of several investigations she carried out while she was a journalist on the show. Investigation, of Radio-Canada, and of which she also made a series of podcasts, The Stations of the Cross.

This investigation began in 2014, on the traces of nine Innu children from Pakua Shipi, who disappeared during a stay at the Blanc-Sablon hospital. Then, she sets off on the trail of Atikamewk children from Manawan, including a little Lauréanna Echaquan, whom her parents took when she was a baby to the Joliette hospital, 200 kilometers from their home. When told of the death of their baby a few days later, the parents returned to Joliette to identify the body, but did not recognize the one presented to them.

“They saw a child who was taller than Lauréanna,” writes Anne Panasuk. Their child, who had however been baptized, would have been buried outside the cemetery of Joliette, according to the testimonies of the parents, but also of a witness found by Anne Panasuk. At first glance, the story seems implausible. “When I tell the horrible stories of our lives, I am always told that it is unbelievable,” warns Richard Ejinagosi Kistabish in the preface.

Anne Panasuk herself doubted the story of Lauréanna’s funeral outside the cemetery, until an eyewitness, a social worker who now lives in the United States and who attached there, confirms the facts. What is more, she writes, “to this day, Lauréanna’s name is still on the list of registered Indians at the Department of Native Affairs.”

When I tell the horrible stories of our lives, I am always told that it is unbelievable.

To get to the bottom of it, says Anne Panasuk in an interview, you should “go and unearth the body buried outside the cemetery, since we know where it is”. Anne Panasuk, recently retired from Radio-Canada, is now special advisor to the Minister of Indigenous Affairs for the support of families of missing or deceased Indigenous children. “But in my mandate, I do nothing without families asking for it. “

Support at the request of families

« As an advisor, I help with the implementation of the new law 79, which has been in force since 1is September, ”she explains. The new law, adopted in the wake of the discovery of hundreds of remains of Indigenous children near residential schools, unlocks all of Quebec’s medical and religious archives. It provides support to indigenous families who are looking for missing family members, or who would like to make exhumation requests in the context of a search for a child. It also makes it possible, with the authorization of the Ministry of Culture, to use penetrating radars to locate remains. According to Anne Panasuk, more than 200 children could be the subject of research under this law.

Another demonstration of the spirit of the time, Lauréanna’s sister, Alice, who is still alive, was taken from her parents when she was born in 1972, in Manawan, to be sent to the Joliette hospital because of ‘disabilities. The following year, a social worker brought Alice back to the village to have them sign an adoption permit, which the parents refused.

The case of Diane Petiquay, in the Atikamekw community of Wemotaci, is even more shocking. Little Diane was sent by plane to La Tuque hospital when she was six months old for pneumonia. At the time, and this was still the case very recently for the communities of the Far North, parents were not allowed to go to the hospital with their child. Diane, who in the meantime became Diane Arviset, because she was adopted, was not reunited with her family until she came of age.

According to his mother’s testimony, it was the Oblate parish priest Jean-Marc Houle, who allegedly sexually assaulted the Natives of the community, who made him sign a child abandonment form claiming that it was a form to obtain care for Diane.

In an interview, Anne Panasuk also acknowledges that, in some cases, child placement interventions were made in good faith, but in ignorance of Aboriginal realities. “There are cases where the child is sent to the hospital and the parents would not visit him, because they could not afford it. In Wemotaci, the distances are enormous. You had to canoe for two days to get to the railroad. So the children were left behind and it was decided by social services that the child was abandoned, ”she says.

Loss of trustworthy

“We were all over the country and they knew where to find us! »Protests Richard Kistabish in the preface. After decades of tragedies, of families dislocated forever, of hidden traces, should we be surprised that indigenous families no longer trust the official discourse?

“From there, cases pile up in front of me. People now talk to me about abducted children. Children missing for several years, found in foster families, adopted without the informed consent of their parents … These stories fuel the suspicions of other families who have seen their children disappear and keep the mad hope of them. find again, ”writes Anne Panasuk.

Failing to find them alive, families who so wish may finally be able to begin a mourning made impossible by silence.

Auassat, in search of missing indigenous children

Anne Panasuk, Éditions Édito, Montreal, 2021, 192 pages. In bookstores on September 29.

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