Judge Brian Giesbrecht in his Winnipeg Sun article, said so many children in residential schools because:
“Disease took many from every demographic, but Indigenous people suffered most. They died mainly in their home communities, where the Grim Reaper was always close by. Infected children entered residential schools, and infected others. Many died”.
All of that is true. Yet such true statements deflect our attention from the real truth. Some people at the time (not with the wisdom of hindsight or with 21st century sensitivities), described conditions at residential schools as “criminal.” The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) explained it this way:
“The federal government knowingly chose not to provide schools with enough money to ensure that kitchens and dining rooms were properly equipped, that cooks were properly trained, and, most significantly, that food was purchased in sufficient quantity and quality for growing children. It was a decision that left thousands of Aboriginal children vulnerable to disease.”
In other words, it was a direct result of Canada’s policies that so many indigenous children suffered from diseases. Poor kitchens with poor food supplies were just one of such policy decisions. Canada, and Canadians, cannot use this as an excuse for what happened. Canada controlled the situation. It made the decisions that result in these conditions. Canada is responsible.
As the TRC said,
“…it is clear that until the 1950s, the schools were the sites of an ongoing tuberculosis crisis. Tuberculosis accounted for just less than 50% of the recorded deaths…The tuberculosis health crisis in schools was part of a broader Aboriginal health crisis that was set in motion by colonial policies that separated Aboriginal people from their land, thereby disrupting their economies and their food supplies. This crisis was particularly intense on the Canadian prairies. Numerous federal government policies contributed to the undermining of Aboriginal health. During a period of starvation, rations were withheld from bands in an effort to force them to abandon the lands that they had initially selected for their reserves. In making the treaties, the government had promised to provide assistance to First Nations to allow them to transition from hunting to farming. This aid was slow in coming and inadequate on arrival. Restrictions in the Indian Act made it difficult for First Nations farmers to sell their produce or borrow money to invest in technology. Reserve land was often agriculturally unproductive. Reserve housing was poor, overcrowded, sanitation was inadequate, and access to clean water was limited. Under these conditions tuberculosis flourished. Those people it did not kill were often severely weakened and likely to succumb to measles, smallpox, and other infectious diseases”.
The direct effect of Canadian policy was to make conditions in the schools difficult for children and easy for diseases.