Bingo is Dead, But is He Silenced?
By Kevin Annett
The only reason I'm still alive is because I see there's people who care about me, and who'll stand beside me when I face the bastards who hurt me.
Johnny "Bingo" Dawson, an aboriginal survivor of Canadian Indian residential schools, said those words last year, when with uncommon courage he helped occupy St. James Anglican church in Vancouver during a Sunday mass, to confront the church that tortured him as a child.
Bingo never lived to see justice. He died yesterday, alone in a slum hotel room in Vancouver's downtown eastside.
I have lost a friend and a brother. We have lost one of our strongest voices.
I last saw my brother a week before he died, on the cold street corner of Main and Hastings that was his home. He was ecstatic that I had been to Rome and confronted the Vatican over all the aboriginal children who died at their hands. I asked him if he would come with me back to Rome in April, and speak there about the genocide he had witnessed.
The invitation lit up his broken face and brought tears to his eyes.
"I've got a criminal record, man. But maybe I can get a passport anyway. I'm going to find out!".
Bingo was talking about our plan all over the neighborhood during his last week. Maybe that's what caused his death.
Bingo was not a popular guy among the Vancouver police and the local churches, because he never showed any fear when they went after him. He went on their radar screen in a big way after he started joining our church occupations, and was always in our front ranks.
I once saw Bingo face down three cops who "ordered" him to "stop being such a fucking troublemaker", after we had occupied St. James church. Bingo told them to get off his land. That was enough to make him a marked man. As he told me after the incident with the three cops,
"That sergeant's told me that people like me end up dead."
Bingo started getting stomach pains two days before he died. The coroner is saying food poisoning. The consensus on the street is that he was deliberately poisoned, which is a standard way of disposing of dissidents in the aboriginal world.
In the police state repression that is smashing down all around us these days in pre-Olympics Vancouver, Bingo was also the latest victim of cops, corporations and politicians determined to "clean up" the downtown east side of potential protesters. And he won't be the last.
But it's not enough of an epitaph to such a valiant soul as Bingo to simply say the obvious: that it's easy to kill an Indian in Canada, especially a vocal one; that the church and cops wanted him dead, and probably arranged it on the eve of the Olympics and our sojourn to Rome; and that our ranks are all the weaker now that Bingo is gone.
Instead, knowing how much he hated sentimentality, I want to say that, like Bingo, I expect everyone reading this to get off his or her ass and stop simply talking about genocide. For if our actions do not become twice as loud now to make up for the awful silence left by Bingo's death, then he truly has been silenced. And those who killed him truly have won.
We are holding a memorial service and march for Bingo next Monday, December 14 at 3:00 pm where he lived: on the northeast corner of main and Hastings in the heart of Vancouver. We will go to the place of his greatest victory, outside the churches that killed thousands of children and have gotten away with it.
But the march doesn't end that day, or ever. Our campaign is converging on Rome and the Vatican this April to shake loose the oldest and most murderous institution in human history, and bring its victims home. And Bingo will be there with us.
I stood on Bingo's corner tonight, remembering all the laughs we had shared there and recollecting his stubborn courage when he had faced down priests and Bishops on their own turf. It didn't feel like he was absent, but still smiling that ironic grin of his and gruffly asking passersby why they were letting Christians get away with mass murder.
Bingo's spirit and hopes survive in the actions of we, the living. Without us, he is gone forever, as is any chance for justice.
Don't let it all be for nothing.
Upcoming events to honor Bingo and carry on his work:
1. December 14 Memorial Service and March, 3:00 pm, northeast corner of Main and Hastings, Vancouver
2. January 10 and 17 Sunday vigil and march in memory of the murdered residential school children, and those who continue to disappear - Gather at 10:00 am outside "Holy Rosary" Catholic church, Richards and Dunsmuir sts, downtown Vancouver
3. February 17 Ash Wednesday Day of Silence to raise funds for aboriginal survivors to come to the Rally at the Vatican in April - See www.hiddenfromhistory.org (Updates) for more information.
4. Hold similar actions in your own community outside (and inside!) Catholic, Anglican and United churches during their services.
Sponsored by The Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared
pager: 1-888-265-1007 (Canada)
Read and Hear the truth of Genocide in Canada, past and present, at this website: www.hiddenfromhistory.org , and see the trailer to Kevin's award-winning documentary UNREPENTANT film on the same website.
Soon to be released feature film, THE DIARY, based on Kevin Anett's epic struggle to bring to light genocide in Canada - see the trailer at:
“Kevin is more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than many who have received it in the past.”
- Dr. Noam Chomsky
Institute Professor Emeritus
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“A courageous and inspiring man." (referring to Kevin Annett)
- Mairead Corrigan-Maguire
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Belfast , Northern Ireland
"As a long time front line worker with the Elders' Council at the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, I stand behind what Kevin Annett is trying to do for our people. The genocide that continues today and which stemmed from the residential schools needs to be exposed. Kevin Annett helps break the silence, and brings the voice of our people all over the world."
Carol Muree Martin - Spirit Tree Woman
"I gave Kevin Annett his Indian name, Eagle Strong Voice, in 2004 when I adopted him into our Anishinabe Nation. He carries that name proudly because he is doing the job he was sent to do, to tell his people of their wrongs. He speaks strongly and with truth. He speaks for our stolen and murdered children. I ask everyone to listen to him and welcome him."
Chief Louis Daniels - Whispers Wind
Elder, Turtle Clan, Anishinabe Nation