Health of Children in Indian Residential Schools of Canada

Two faithful readers have asked me to comment on issues relating to the health of indigenous children in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools (as they were called). (See my post “Manitoba makes New York City  look good” The issues are incredibly important and reflect very poorly on Canada so I have chosen to respond in a separate post.

According to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC Report ), “The Death rates for Aboriginal children in residential schools were far higher than those experienced by members of the general Canadian population.” It must be remembered and emphasized that indigenous children were taken out of their homes and communities against their will presumably to be educated for their benefit. To then learn that while under the custody and control of the national government and its agencies, such as various churches, children were dying at staggering rates is incredibly disturbing. I will be blogging about this again in the future.

Tuberculosis was a particular problem for indigenous children. According to that TRC Report,


“The tuberculosis health crisis in the 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 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 make a 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 and crowded, sanitation was inadequate, and access to clean water was limited. Under those conditions tuberculosis flourished. Those people it did not kill were often severely weakened and likely to succumb to measles, smallpox, and other infectious diseases.

For aboriginal children, the relocation to residential schools was generally no healthier than their homes had been on the reserves…”


In April 2007, Bill Curry and Karen Howlett reported in the Globe and Mail as follows:

“As many as half of the aboriginal children who attended the early years of residential schools died of tuberculosis, despite repeated warnings to the federal government that overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of o medical care created a toxic breeding ground for the rapid spread of disease.”

Think about that. Half the children died from TB!

Anthony Hall in his book Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism referred to the schools as “death traps.”

Dr. P.H. Bryce prepared astonishing reports to the federal government about the schools in 1907 and 1909 in which he drew to the government’s attention the shocking death rates of children and that these death rates could be drastically reduced by the implementation of simple and inexpensive changes such as improved ventilation and sanitation, filtering entering students for contagious illness, and isolating sick individuals away from crowded dormitories. He called Canada’s administration of the Indian residential schools  a “national crime.” That is precisely what it was.

The government responded that it was “too expensive”. After all why spend so much money to save the lives of Indian children?


Leave a Reply