Deaths at Residential School Were Not Unpreventable

The conversation began as responses to an article posted by the Associated Press @AP ( ). The article was about the 751 unmarked graves found at the site of a former residential school (boarding school) for Indigenous children in Saskatchewan.

Key questions are whether graveyard served entire reserve since school is located on reserve, population of the school & reserve over all those years, which covered TB, smallpox & flu epidemics that hit natives hard (June 25, 2021).

JT @Mr_JJT, Twitter, June 25, 2021

These schools weren’t anywhere near the communities the children came from, or any community close enough to allow a child to easily escape. Furthermore, there were reports written during the time period about how practices at the schools were causing the spread of diseases. These reports, delivered to officials who could have acted upon them to make a difference in the mortality rates at these schools, were aggressively ignored. Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, the person who wrote most of the reports, was driven out of his position and slandered for the remainder of his life.

The article posted by the Associated Press made it somewhat easy to misrepresent the facts. It stated that the Marieval Indian Residential School operated from 1899 to 1997 at the current location of Cowessess First Nation. The article also stated that this discovery should not be confused with the finding of a mass grave. These graves had once been marked, until one individual member of the Catholic Church had the markings removed at the time when the graveyard was taken over by the Cowessess First Nation. There are some things to unpack here.

First, the idea that the school is on what is now the Cowessess First Nation implies that it was always a place where the community buried their dead and attended church. This is misleading. It allows a person to tell themselves that the unmarked graves are filled with community members who died over an extended period of time from a wide array of causes. This simply isn’t the case. Residential schools were not built in locations where children could easily escape, because their primary purpose was not to act as education institutions. On the rare occasion a child left one of these facilities with anything approaching an academic education, they were enfranchised against their will. What I mean by this is they would be stripped of their treaty status and would henceforth be known as “White.” With this in mind, we need to keep in the foreground the fact that this school is located on what is now Cowessess First Nation, but that it was not always Cowessess First Nation. It was far more common for an Indigenous child to die in one of these institutions than to get an education. Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo quoted Duncan Campbell Scott as follows: “Fifty percent of the children who passed through these schools did not live to benefit from the education they had received therein” (Duncan Campbell Scott, Superintendent of Indian Education, writing on the residential school system in an essay included in the publication “Canada and Its Provinces” published in 1912).

Furthermore, we need to scrutinise the statement that the markers were removed by one individual member of the Catholic Church. Why were they removed? To begin with, the word “Marker” is misleading. We bring our own preconceptions to the word, envisioning a gravestone with a name and pertinent dates. That also was simply not the case. In this case, the word represents a small stone with a number on. If these stones had been left in place, it would be immediately recognisable to the Cowessess First Nation who were taking over the graveyard that there were hundreds of students of the residential child prison (residential school) buried on their land. These children would have come from reserves all over the country, because the church had been careful to keep too many children who spoke the same language from being collected in one location, much like slave-owners were careful not to purchase too many people from any particular African nation. I believe the individual who had the markers removed considered it a threat to allow the Cowessess First Nation to know the full extend of what had happened on the land they were reclaiming.

It was shortly after this that Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo and Brian @BGCFreed began to lay out some facts for bootlickers for child abuse, JT @Mr_JJT and whytestreak @whytestreak.

Dr. Bryce wrote a report in 1908 that stated for the period between 1892 and 1908, the annual death rate from all causes for children in residential schools was 8000 deaths per 100000 children. The comparison in general Canadian population for 1901 showed that for children between the ages of 5 and 14, there were 430 deaths per 100000. This means the death rate in residential schools was almost 20 times higher than the national death rate for children in the same age group. Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo went on to provide the graph included below, which demonstrates the disproportionate death rate of children at these schools compared to the general population of Canadian children was not a short-term or one-off occurrence. Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo quoted a headline from a story about the residential school system that was published in the Ottawa Citizen in 1907: “Schools Aid White Plague – Startling Death Rolls Revealed among Indians – Absolute Inattention to Bare Necessities of Health.” Allard went on to quote S.H. Blake, from a report to the federal government on the state of Residential Schools written in 1908: “The appalling number of deaths among the younger children appeals loudly to the guardians of our Indians. In doing nothing to obviate the preventable causes of death, brings the Department within unpleasant nearness to the charge of manslaughter” (Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo, Twitter, 2021-06-26).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screenshot-2021-06-27-at-11.42.46-am.png
Source: Fraser, “Vital Statistics and Health, Table B23-34,” Average age-specific death rates, both sexes, Canada, for five-year periods, 1921 to 1974; Rosenthal, “Statistical Analysis of Deaths.”

JT @Mr_JJT and whytestreak @whytestreak didn’t let fact stand in their way. In fact, whytestreak @whytestreak wrote:

You fail to mention that many of these children died from TB, typhoid, smallpox, etc. That was the state of health care then and indigenous children were much more vulnerable than adults. Also, JT comments are absolutely correct, whether you like it or not.

whytestreak @whytestreak, Twitter, 2021-06-26

Of course, I was quick to respond that I literally did not fail to mention this. I told the poster that I had actually pointed out how it is one of the most pernicious myths cited by bootlickers for child abuse. Jean-Paul Allard replied to the bootlickers that the myth springs from the father of lies himself, or at least his second cousin, Duncan Campbell Scott:

It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituating so closely in the residential school and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of the Department, which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem.”

Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, 1910.

Relying on the advice of men who want to implement Final Solutions for the “X-Problem” has lead to all genocides in our history, including the genocide of Indigenous people in Canada.

JT @Mr_JJT replied with the “we didn’t know better” justification. They wrote:

Obviously the idea of taking kids away from family & culture is devastating. We realize that now. We didn’t then. But remember that foster situations still happen now, and we know the toll on those kids of any color. Plus there is a practical angle. Child dies of a disease. School houses & churches out on the early 20th century prairie don’t have refrigerated morgues. Contagious, contaminated corpses need to be handled, especially during outbreaks, quickly. There is no capacity to transport corpses long distances to reserves.

JT @Mr_JTT, Twitter, 2021-06-26

He is correct that the bodies needed to go in the ground, meaning they couldn’t be sent back to their home reserves. However, why were they still away from their home reserves? There was already ample evidence given that being away from home, in these institutions, was causing disproportional mortality. JT began with the premise that we didn’t know better, when Duncan Campbell Scott already made clear we did, and we chose to proceed anyway.

Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo quoted Duncan Campbell Scott’s brief of incoming Superintendent Arthur Meighen in 1918, “Unsanitary and… were undoubtedly chargeable with a very high death rate among the pupils” (Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo, Twitter, 2021-06-26). To this, JT @Mr_JJT responded: “So let’s play a little game called reality. It’s 1908, what’s your response to a breakout of TB or smallpox in a boarding school?” (JT @Mr_JJT, Twitter, 2021-06-26). Brian @BGCFreed responded that at least one response from the government was to use Indigenous peoples as test subjects. Brian also responded that an inappropriate response would be to feed the children rancid food, then force them to eat their own vomit, which was done.

Dr. Bryce reported, “[In the schools, a] trail of disease and death has gone on almost uncheck by any serious efforts, on the department of Indian Affairs” (Dr. Bryce, Former Chief Medical Officer of the Indian Department, 1922). Reverend Lett reported in 1923, “the children were lean and anaemic and T.B. glands were running in many cases. Energy was at its lowest ebb. Five minutes leap frog was the most I could get out of the boys at once. In examining the Bill of Fare I found that here lay a great deal of trouble in the health and welfare of the children. They were not getting enough to eat” (Reverend A. Lett, 1923, Quoted by Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo, Twitter, 2021-06-26). The staff running the school were not qualified, including those responsible for the medical welfare of the children. Jean-Paul Allard responded to JT’s demand to know what could be done with the following:

You isolate the sick and provide them with an enriched diet and rest which is what doctors recommended be done in the residential schools but were ignored. The schools medical examiner at the time recommended they be shut down and non-residential schools be built.

Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo, Twitter, 2021-06-26

This is how these diseases were managed in the general Canadian public. We can see from the numbers already provided that these methods greatly reduced the mortality rate from these diseases. I also have already provided the reason these recommendations were not followed. Duncan Campbell Scott and the Canadian Government wanted a Final Solution to the Indian Problem.

Addressing the matter of the grave markers, Jean-Paul Allard pointed out that the grave markers had been removed by the church in the 1960’s, but they made sure to leave the marker for a nun in place. JT @Mr_JJT responded:

So if their graves were so important, the removal of markers such a crime against humanity, why didn’t families put in a new marker? Or the band? How long had they been neglected prior? Why take 50 years to declare the removal of 100 year old markers was a horror?

JT @Mr_JJT, Twitter, 2021-06-26

Jean-Paul Allard responded:

Why didn’t the victims do more to prevent their victimization at the hands of a much richer and more powerful group? Church/Indian agent would control access to the land until 1970’s or later. The expense would be enormous for First Nation. No indication they were all marked.

Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo, Twitter, 2021-06-26

Proving there are some people who will never listen to what they are being told, or indeed, acknowledge facts, JT @Mr_JJT spewed:

So I’ll say it clearly. What should they have done in 1900? What should they have done in 1940? What would you have done in 1900? What would you have done in 1940? I’d doubt you have the guts, the integrity or the intellect to respond.

JT @Mr_JJT, Twitter, 2021-06-27

Brian @BGCFreed responded with a list of things he would NOT have done:

I would not rip out fingernails. I would not bash in heads with 2×4’s. I would not experiment on them. I would not throw bodies of trains. I would not force them to eat rotten food. I would not force them to eat vomit. How about you?

Brian @BGCFreed, Twitter, 2021-06-28

Not that this needed to be said again to this joker, JT @Mr_JJT, who had already been told the answers to his questions over and over, Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo once again attempted to enlighten him:

Close the residential schools and operate regular schools like the chief medical examiner suggested they do in 1908. They knew the solution at the time. The churches didn’t want to give up the power and converts the schools represented. You should really try reading about this.

Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo, Twitter, 2021-06-28

JT @Mr_JJT repeatedly criticised Jean-Paul Allard and Brian for not providing facts. Of course, they were the only ones providing historically accurate statistics and quotes. He poked at the value of these because Allard and Brian had provided many of them in the form of screen shots. Someone like @Mr_JJT always expects the person they are arguing with to work harder than them, because they appear to believe everything they think is true simply by virtue of them having thought it. They don’t appear to believe anything they say needs to be proved. Allard and Brian were already giving @Mr_JJT more of their intellectual and emotional labour than he deserved. There is no reason they needed to scan the source material for the information they were providing to be taken seriously. Marginalised people are often expected to do intellectual and emotional labour for free. If they refuse, it is often pointed to as proof that what they are saying is invalid. It’s a really shitty catch-22.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cowessess.png

*I want to begin by crediting and thanking Jean-Paul Allard @NoRacistLogo and Brian @BGCFreed for putting this information on Twitter in one thread that I accessed to help me write this article. I am not entirely sure the original source material for all of this information, so this will have to serve as my works cited.

*I also need to credit JT @Mr_JJT and whytestreak @whytestreak for inspiring this blog post through all their bootlicking for child abuse on Twitter.

Finally, I need to credit two articles for that helped incite the discussion on Twitter that inspired this blog post:

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