There are some bright lights in this dark story. Dr. Peter Bryce, a physician working for the federal government, at great cost to his own career, spoke out about the horrendous conditions in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. Eventually that led him into conflict with government officials who did not want the bad news so he was driven out of government.
When Dr. Peter Bryce was preparing his report for the federal government in 1906 he had given the principals of various residential schools a questionnaire regarding the health of their aboriginal students. He got responses from 15 different schools and found that of the 1,537 pupils in their schools “nearly 25 percent are dead.” Remember these were young children who had a long life expectancy and 25% were dead! Dr. Bryce also reported about 1 of those schools where 69% of the ex-pupils were dead.
Dr. Bryce recommended that the federal government take over the schools, as clearly the churches had failed. It could hardly have been clearer that this was the right conclusion. Yet the federal government, notwithstanding death rates of 25% fatalities decided that the plan should be rejected because “it was viewed as too costly.” The lives of aboriginal children were not worth much.
Briefly, the federal government actually increased funding to the schools, but that fell by the wayside during the Depression. Soon the schools were again underfunded. As the TRC reported, “underfunding created by the cuts guaranteed that students would be poorly fed, clothed, and housed. As a result, children were highly susceptible to tuberculosis.”
In one report Dr. Bryce said, “We have created a situation so dangerous to health that that I was often surprised that the results were not even worse than they had statistically proven to be.” 25% fatality rate is not high enough?
Dr. Bryce called residential schools “a national crime.” Some have called it genocide. Who disagrees with that?