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Faces have come and gone in one day, and in thirty six hundred, but the same cold reality stared back at me today in the hard eyes of angry desperation of the men and women, mostly aboriginal, who share these streets, and who never rest. Nor, for that matter, did any other politician who spoke to the carefully arranged crowd of natives and whites.
But there was plenty of sorrow and outrage on our streets yesterday. Somebody else had just died, a native man named Vince who had, naturally, been jailed in residential school as a kid and suffered horribly there, and every day of his life thereafter.
As much as Steven Harper and his friends know nothing of Bingo and Vince, they could not have spoken in Parliament yesterday and garnered such undeserved praise without the two of them, and all the other suffering throngs on every mean street across Canada that residential school survivors call home.
Early that spring of , the late Harriett Nahanee and I invited IHRAAM to come and listen to the stories of the residential school survivors who we had been working with for two years, many of whom had - like Harriett - witnessed killings and burials of fellow students at the schools. From June 12 to 14, twelve IHRAAM judges and a UN observer heard stories of murder, torture, involuntary sterilization and medical experimentation in west coast residential schools, from eyewitnesses: Exactly one reporter showed up to the event - the Globe and Mail ran a short piece about the Tribunal on June 20, - but the Tribunal was an historic first: That plan is quite simple: A simple plan, but a potentially explosive one because of two threats: Oddly, Montague was then assigned to the residential schools issue in , after the first lawsuits began against his employer and the United Church of Canada.
But to one of these agents, who subsequently spilled the beans, Montague said, "Kevin Annett is the one to worry about Discredit him and you discredit the issue. Still today, the official organs of church, state and mass media in Canada seem haunted and obsessed by me, as if I am the issue; as if I personify the massively guilty conscience of "white" Canada.
That guilt struggled to be assuaged yesterday in Parliament, and in the media orgasm that tries to convince us that the "issue" of residential schools is finally resolved. But it cannot be alleviated, any more than can the pain of Bingo, or Vince. We are, all of us, quite missing the point: To comprehend the horror and fact of the residential schools requires that we look first and last at ourselves, as we truly are: Holding up such a mirror to that truth and to my own culture has been my sole waking purpose for the past thirteen years.
And, thankfully, I have witnessed over those years an amazing thing: Last year, it would have been inconceivable for the Canadian media and government to be speaking almost casually about unmarked graves and dead residential school children. Ten years has taught me to stand aside from their world, as it topples. June 12, Kevin D. Annett is a community minister, film maker and author who lives and works in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, on occupied Squamish Nation territory.
Almost immediately, it began the torturous process of destroying all other aspects of aboriginal culture and identity it did not value. The policy of assimilation through Indian residential schools is the most destructive example. Finally, Canada admits this shameful history. On Wednesday, the Prime Minister said sorry for the devastation caused to aboriginal children and families.
He also asked for forgiveness. That message was no small mouthful. It took personal courage and political will to utter it. I know, because in , as premier of the Northwest Territories, I offered my own apology to our residential school survivors. I did it despite resistance from the bureaucracy and my own ministers and colleagues. It was difficult and humiliating to face the survivors and their parents and children. I know what Stephen Harper and the other national party leaders must have been feeling on Wednesday.
As a residential school survivor myself, I also understand the importance of the apology offered, and the strength and courage it will take survivors to consider and accept it. At 9, I was sent to residential school. A nun shaved my head and stripped me bare in front of all the other boys, followed by months of repeated beatings, whippings, sexual abuse and solitary confinement in a dark, locked closet.
Because I was bad and deserved it. But this is not just about me.
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It is about my father, brothers and sisters … and my year-old mother. We always wondered why she never told stories of her family. Recently, she finally told us she was taken away at 6 and never returned home until she was She left with baby teeth, and returned a young woman. Her family all died within five years. She has no childhood or family memory, no stories to tell. So many aboriginal brothers and sisters across the country have their own versions of this same sickening story.
Twenty-five per cent of us did not survive residential schools. What a crippling loss to our peoples. Even in times of active warfare, Canada has never faced such a high death toll. Generations have been ruptured from each other. Lives have been shattered. Spirits have been broken. Our communities are haunted by so many of the living dead.
Many survivors learned to fight, we had to. Over the past 30 years, every single gain for aboriginal peoples has been hard-fought. In school, we learned nothing about our histories and ourselves.
We were told we had no rights.
We were the last Canadians to get the vote, in Before then, to vote we had to give up our treaty rights. In the s, it took a Supreme Court judge to say we had aboriginal rights for governments to listen! Over and over in our history, the recognition, negotiation and implementation of our rights has consistently been met only with great reluctance.
Is this the dramatic turning point we have all been fighting and praying for? The Prime Minister has said sorry to the First Peoples of this country. I imagine that political and legal factors were carefully weighed. Or is it because he understands what it is to be a father? Surely all parents can imagine the horror of having your children forcibly stolen as little more than babies, to return as young adults — strangers, who no longer speak your language.
You completely missed their childhood … they did, too.
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You offer an apology, which I accept. But that restoration work will deliver the forgiveness, which you also seek. This apology marks us all. It is the end of national denial, the beginning of truth.
It opens us to the promise of new relationships. Making amends takes longer; it requires sustained commitment over time to heal wounds and return spirit and dignity to survivors and their families.
Reconciliation, with action, can take us there. Together, we can work to make this the best place in the world for all who call Canada home. It is what my father and grandfather would have done. Twenty-five years from now, may children across the land be proud of it, and proud also of all their grandparents, who today began a journey together to make things right. It was September , and Pope John Paul 11 was revisiting far northern community of Fort Simpson, a previous appearance three years before thwarted by fog.
The Native Elders were among the more than 5, aboriginals who had traveled for days, some for weeks, mostly in rusting pickups, but many by canoe, all to catch a glimpse of the Pope. The more I talk to them the more I wondered why they had bothered.
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Almost everyone I interviewed had horror stories of Indian residential schools run by Roman Catholic missionaries and other churches. Through tears they talked of literally being torn away from their families as young children, isolated far away in church-run boarding schools, and subjected to years of emotions, physical and sexual abuse. My children were taken away as little ones. All, over , helpless aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their homes put into this grotesque attempt at cultural engineering through assimilation -- "to kill the Indian in the child," as the saying went.
In fact, it is believed thousands of the children actually died before they could see their moms and dads again. In fact, the pontiff praised the Catholic missionaries who "taught you to love and appreciate the spiritual and cultural treasures of your way of life. For over a century, the federal government was no better until victims of residential school abuse began turning to the courts in the s, courageously sharing their horrific stories with all Canadians. With clarity, class and a rare depth of emotion that brought him close to tears, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a full and profound apology for every aspect of the fiasco.
In many ways, Harper was admitting the obvious: Who today would doubt that "it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes"?
Or that "far too often, these institutions gave rise to abuse or neglect and were inadequately controlled"? What poured out was a horrific account of repeated rape and beatings 30 years earlier at the Port Alberni residential school on Vancouver Island.
They also bolstered the class-action claims that would ultimately lead to a massive compensation settlement and a historic apology to be offered Wednesday in Parliament. Blackwater will be in the House of Commons when the prime minister finally stands to atone on behalf of all Canadians for what so many terrorized, isolated children endured. Ottawa conceded 10 years ago that physical and sexual abuse in the defunct network of federally financed, church-run schools was rampant.
But no prime minister has ever officially apologized. But I think it will be one of the humongous chapters in my life that will help bring completion to a lot of We will hear the difference.