Canadian “Indian residential schools” were a network of residential (boarding) schools for Indigenous children funded by the Canadian government’s Department of Indian Affairs (DIA), and administered by Christian churches such as the Anglican Church of Canada. The system originated in pre-Confederation times, but was dramatically expanded following the passage of the Indian Act in 1876, until the last federally-operated residential school was finally closed in 1996.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced by the DIA to attend under a deliberate federal policy of “civilizing” Indigenous children, extinguishing tribal systems, and assimilation. The DIA officially encouraged the growth of the residential school system as a valuable agent in a wider policy of assimilating Indigenous into European-Canadian society. A key goal of the system, which separated children from their families and communities, has been described as cultural genocide or “killing the Indian in the child”.
Many children were physically, mentally and sexually abused. Some committed suicide. Some died fleeing captivity to return home.
The Mohawk Institute “Mush Hole” was a residential school founded by the New England Company in the period 1828 – 1834. The New England Company was originally known as “The Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the Parts Adjacent in America”. Its mandate was to propagate the Christian religion to and amongst “heathen natives” and for “civilizing, teaching and instructing the said heathen natives and their children, not only in the principles and knowledge of the true religion and in morality, and the knowledge of the English tongue and in other liberal arts and sciences…”.
The last known full-blooded Tutelo speaker, Nikonha or Waskiteng (“Old Mosquito”) died in the Grand River Territory in 1870. No Tutelo children are known to have survived, none are known to remain, and the historic site of the last Tutelo Longhouse (a few hundred meters from notorious pre-Nazi New York eugenics leader Alexander Bell’s homestead at Tutela Heights), has since fallen into the hands of infamous developer, Walton Corp., who has pursued de facto injunctions against elder Indigenous land protectors and supporters who defend the sacred sites.
The New England Company operated the Mush Hole until at least 1922 with financial assistance from the DIA after 1885.
For decades starting in about 1910, tuberculosis was a consistent killer — in part because of widespread ‘ignorance’, suppression and deceit in respect of how diseases were spread and killing Indigenous children and their families.
In 1909, Dr. Peter Bryce, general medical superintendent for the DIA, reported to the department that between 1894 and 1908, mortality rates at some Canadian residential schools ranged from 30% to 60% over five years (that is, five years after entry, 30% to 60% of students had died, or 6–12% per annum). These statistics did not become public until 1922, when Bryce, who was no longer working for the government, published The Story of a National Crime: Being a Record of the Health Conditions of the Indians of Canada from 1904 to 1921.
In particular, he alleged that the high mortality rates could have been avoided if healthy children had not been exposed to children with tuberculosis. At the time, no antibiotic had been identified to treat the disease.
The Spanish flu epidemic in 1918-1919 also took a devastating toll on Onkwehon:we children. For example, records show that in one grim three-month period, the disease killed 20 children at a residential school in Spanish, Ontario. Yet an amendment to the Indian Act in 1920 made attendance at a day, industrial or residential school compulsory for Onkwehon:we children. In many territories, residential schools were the only option, forcing children into toxic captivity.
In 1920 and 1922, Dr. A. Corbett was commissioned to visit the schools in western Canada, and found similar results to Bryce. At the Ermineskin school in Hobbema, Alberta, he found 50% of the children had tuberculosis. At Sarcee Boarding School near Calgary, all 33 students were “much below even a passable standard of health” and “[a]ll but four were infected with tuberculosis.” In one classroom, he found 16 ill children, many near death, who were being made to sit through lessons. The schools were known by authorities to be particular breeding grounds for disease and dormitories have been described as “incubation wards”.
The DIA continued to expand the total number of Canadian residential schools until it reached its peak of 80 in 1931.