An Ungodly Alliance – PART III – known health concerns ignored

By Jim Windle

In Part III of “Ungodly Alliance” we investigate more documentary evidence which was known by both the church and state on abuses of trust, sexual and physical abuse, serious health issues, and general inhumanity which faced young Native children within the residential school system.

Some modernists have tried to justify this long and horrific chapter of Canadian history, which has been kept from the Canadian people, by saying that it was a much more brutal time in those days and that one can not fairly retrofit today’s sensibilities over those of another era.

But records uncovered in church, Indian Affairs, New England Company archives, and old newspapers by Anglican Church historian Wendy Fletcher, Six Nations elder and devout Anglican, Liona Moses, as well as other independent researchers and authors, prove these crimes against humanity were noted as such, even by contemporaries of the day.

Ironically, Canada’s most racist and heartless figure of all time and the architect of cultural and physical genocide against Native children is still lauded today as one of its most revered and decorated poets.

Duncan Campbell Scott served as Deputy Superintendent of Department of Indian Affairs between 1913 and 1932. He was president of the Royal Society of Canada from 1921 to 1922, awarded the Lorne Pierce Medal for his contributions to Canadian Literature, and received honorary degrees from both the University of Toronto and Queens University.

Even though the foundation of Canada’s assimilation policy, as declared within the Indian Act, was already somewhat in place when he took over the reins of the Indian Department, Scott single handedly took the already deplorable treatment of Native children within church run Indian schools, and codified that racist and dehumanizing practice as a national policy and expanded on it, the remnants of which are still with us today.

Scott was much different than his predecessor, Frank Oliver, who in 1908 questioned the morality of the forced assimilation policy of his government and the church through the residential school system.

“I hope you will excuse me for so speaking,” Oliver said in a correspondence written to Toronto lawyer S. H. Blake. “But one of the most important commandments laid upon the human by the divine is love and respect by children for parents. It seems strange that in the name of religion a system of education should have been instituted, the foundation principle of which not only ignored but contradicted this command.”

When the ungodly alliance between the Christian church and the Canadian government was officially formulated, authority and the majority of the funding necessary to keep these schools open, became the responsibility of the Indian Affairs Department. As bad as it was for the students under the church’s authority, it became far worse once the government took the lead.

Dr. P.H. Bryce, M.D., was the Chief Medical Officer of the Indian Department and as such was tasked with gathering information on the health interests of Indians within the borders of the Dominion of Canada and filing reports of his findings with the department for a period between 1907 and 1914. He used 35 schools in the western provinces as his specific point of investigation, although he concluded that similar conditions were likely across Canada, including at the Mush Hole at Brantford.

His reports and recommendations were never made public. These are, in part, some of the important records and documents Anglican Church historian and researcher, Dr. Wendy Fletcher, set out to gather and compile for the Huron Diocese of the Anglican Church.

Bryce’s 1922 book, “The Story of a National Crime – an appeal for justice to the Indians of Canada,” should have created a national stir, but it didn’t. Although his book is now out of circulation, a few rare copies still exist. In this short but shocking book, Bryce reveals some of his findings while working for Indian Affairs.

Regarding the health of the pupils, Dr Bryce writes, “24 per cent of all pupils which had been in the schools (that he inspected) were known to be dead, while at one school on the File Hills reserve, …. 75 per cent were dead at the end of the 16 years since that school opened.”

Coupled with other recently uncovered documents, it is estimated that as many as 50 percent or more of the 100,000 to 150,000 students who entered these schools never returned home alive.

Dr. Bryce had many urgent recommendations in each of his official reports back to Indian Affairs, but few, if any, were acted upon.

Although overcrowding and poor ventilation were well known as two of the main contributors for tuberculosis, Indian schools were thrown up with no attention paid to either. Since government funding was based on a per capita scale, there was chronic overcrowding in most schools. A “get ‘em up, and keep ‘em filled” attitude soon superseded any common sense decision making within the school’s administrators.

One report speaks about the Mush Hole specifically purchasing bad and wormy oatmeal in bulk to feed the resident children while the teachers and staff ate in a separate dining room, eating fresh fruit from the school’s orchard and meat from the school’s farms. Any student caught eating an apple from the trees was severely punished. Hence the name the children gave the place “The Mush Hole”.

“We found ways of straining the maggots out by sifting the mush through our teeth,” said one former Mohawk Institute “inmate” as the children were referred to in some government documents.

Bryce constantly pleaded with the government to close the worst of the schools and to renovate others to an acceptable level.

“The annual medical reports from year to year made reference to unsatisfactory health of the pupils, while different local medical officers urged greater action in view of the results of their experience,” writes Bryce.

He complains that although his recommendations were explicit and clearly stated, Duncan Campbell Scott stood in active opposition and ordered his deputy minister to disregard them entirely. In fact, Professor George Admi, Pathologist of McGill University stated at the time that it was “only after the earnest solicitation of Dr. D.C. Scott that the whole matter of Dr. Bryce’s report was prevented from becoming a matter of critical discussion at the annual meeting of the National Tuberculosis Association in 1910.”

In response to the reports of unacceptable and growing mortality rates at Indian schools, Scott, rather than follow the advice of the medical inspectors, eliminated the office entirely in 1919.

In essence, Scott’s lack of action in the face of a known crisis was tantamount to the small-pox infected blankets used to thin out the Indian population in the United States  less than a century before, but more subtle in its approach.

His “kill the Indian, save the child” philosophy became literal for Scott.

Some deaths, including documented cases at the Mush Hole, were written off as death by misadventure, when neglect of adult supervision lead to abuse perpetrated by fellow students against each other.

One such death was the result of what happens when you put unsupervised teens in a prison-like hierarchical system who are allowed, and even encouraged, to take control over the younger, more vulnerable ones.

A young girl was forced to hang onto what what called a May Pole, which was a pole with an old wheel at the top with ropes hanging down at intervals from it. Some older kids spun the terrified girl so violently that she dare not let go or be flung a great distance, likely to be seriously injured. The wheel came off the top and fell on the girl killing her.

“Records show there was a kind of hierarchy where older kids were violated and abused and went on to violate and abuse the younger ones,” says Fletcher.

One former student said that every September, the older kids would fight each other to establish what the pecking order would be. According to him, this practice was not only known by the principal, but was a source of entertainment for the staff as they watched the fights take place. The winner was given special privileges and at times used by some of the teachers to do their disciplining for them.

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