: This story is about the neglect and abuse of children at the Indian residential schools in Canada. People Affected by Schools Can Call the Canadian Residential School Crisis Line 1-866-925-4419 for support.
September 30, 2021 – The discovery in recent months of more than 1,300 unmarked graves on the grounds of former indigenous residential schools in Canada has brought back an ugly chapter in the country’s history. Survivors of residential schools share their stories at events across the country as part of the first national day for truth and reconciliation on 30 September.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined the residential school system in 2015, found that about half of the recorded deaths are attributed to tuberculosis (TB).
Most TB deaths at schools occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when TB was a major public health problem in Canada and there were no reliable drug treatments. But that does not mean the deaths were inevitable or unexpected, says Elizabeth Rea, MD, a medical officer of health at Toronto Public Health and a member of the steering committee of Stop TB Canada.
“The risk factors for TB were known in the medical community at the time,” she says.
Lethal rates for TB
Those conditions – pressure, poverty, malnutrition and poor ventilation – were the norm in indigenous communities and especially residential schools, which contributed to an unequal TB.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the annual TB death rate in indigenous populations was about 700 per 100,000 people – about 20 times higher than in the population as a whole – but in residential schools it was an astronomical 8,000 per 100,000.
The Canadian government was aware of this difference and its cause. In 1907, Peter Bryce, managing director, head of medical health at the Department of Indian Affairs, examined the schools and reported that it ‘almost as if the first conditions for the outbreak of epidemics was deliberately created, ‘and he insists that the system be overhauled to improve conditions.
But Bryce – who was president of the American Public Health Association in 1900 and drafted Canada’s first Public Health Act, which would be used as a model in North America – was ignored by the government. His report was suppressed, his funding was reduced, and he was eventually expelled from the civil service.
A national crime: reported
“The government did not refute its findings, they just chose not to help put these children to death,” said Cindy Blackstock, PhD, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
Bryce, according to Blackstock, was not the only whistleblower; Many people at the time knew about the problem and understood that it was wrong. When his 1907 report was leaked to the press, it caused furious news in newspapers and proposals from lawyers that the government was guilty of manslaughter.
But it had little effect on government policy. In response to Bryce’s report, Duncan Campbell Scott, Head of Indian Affairs, wrote: ‘It is readily acknowledged that Indian children are losing their natural resistance to disease by living in residential schools so closely and dying in a much higher pace as in their But that alone does not justify a change in the policy of this department aimed at a final solution to our Indian problem. “
Although the last residential school was closed in 1997, the impact the system has had on survivors and their families remains. TB continues to be a serious public health problem in indigenous communities, especially those in the Arctic, but the history of neglect and abuse at residential schools, hospitals and TB sanatoriums has left a legacy of distrust of indigenous medicine among indigenous peoples. Tina Campbell, a registered nurse and TB counselor at the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority.
Trauma between generations
The harmful legacy of the schools extends far beyond TB care, says Angela White, executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and member of the Snuneymuxw First Nation. Survivors often turn to alcohol, drugs, or suicide to deal with their trauma, which in turn causes many of the same problems to future generations.
“Survivors have been holding on to ugly truths for so long, and this leads to other things that are not always healthy,” she says.
The Bishops of Canada on Monday apologized for the church’s role in the abuse at the schools and pledged $ 30 million to support indigenous reconciliation projects for survivors of residential schools.
The country is moving in the right direction when it comes to reconciliation with indigenous peoples, White says, but progress is slow, and government action rarely matches its promises. Survivors, for their part, want to ensure that the next generation does not have to experience what they went through.
“They want to break the cycle and complete their healing journey,” she says.