Last night I had the good fortune of seeing Kevin Annett speak at Ryerson University. I first met Kevin last year when I arranged for him to speak at Campus Co-op, and that event was crucial for my becoming aware of Canada’s genocidal treatment of indigenous populations, and specifically the history of residential school. His documentary, “Unrepentant” (watch the trailer or the whole film online), is a brutal and compelling story which carefully documents both the history, and the way institutions respond to those who threaten to unearth crimes of the past.
This event was part of the launch of Kevin’s new book, Unrepentant: Disrobing the Emperor, although unfortunately he was all out of copies so I wasn’t able to get my hands on one (it can also be ordered online for the surprisingly low price of 13$, or 8$ on Kindle). Kevin read from the book a little, but because the stories are highly emotional, and the audience was relatively small and highly educated in residential school history, he left most of the time for people to ask questions, talk, and socialize. One of my favorite things about Kevin is his sense of the importance of community, and the need to actively engender time and spaces for people to relate humanely with each other – and how this is at least as important as getting the correct ideas out there, supported by good arguments.
Superficially, not much as changed in Kevin’s story since I saw him speak last year. There is a difference in tone, however – in a sense he has become much more hopeful. He’s begun to speak about the confluence of capitalist/environmental crisis in relation to our society’s unwillingness/inability to come to terms with grief, to understand its own failings, and to be honest with itself about the terror it creates for those who are excluded from privilege. He now connects the religious logic which allowed Christians to consider non-Christian lives not worth living with the logic of white or western privilege which grounds racial or sectarian prejudice that makes palatable imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. His response to this is not to encourage us to stand up against it, because this culture is us. Rather, he suggests we grieve the death of that culture, which is our culture. I’ll have a better idea of what that means after I read his new book, but perhaps more significantly – I already have a strong feeling of what he means.