WARNING: This story has disturbing details about residential and boarding schools including The Mohawk Institute (aka) The Mush Hole. The immediate source of this story was Mrs. Liona Moses who has since passed. Many thanks as well to former Anglican Church Historian, Dr. Wendy Fletcher who fact-proofed these instalments before being first published a decade ago. Given the renewed interest in the fate of hundreds, if not thousands, of Indigenous children, we republish this below.
Ungodly Alliance – PART II – Concrete evidence of abuse at the “Mush Hole” Anglican Church historian and Mohawk Institute researcher, Dr. Wendy Fletcher, was instrumental in gathering together all known documents and records relating to the history and function of the Mohawk Institute from its beginnings, through the Duncan Campbell Scott era, and up to when it closed its doors for the last time as a residential school in the 1970s.
Before accepting the task of gathering this material, Fletcher, like most Canadian citizens, knew very little about the church-run, government-controlled residential schools. Over the course of the next 18 months of her extensive journey of discovery, Fletcher learned about an ugly and hidden side of Canadian and church history she had not previously been exposed to.
The evidence shocked her, but the fact she knew nothing about it, disturbed her almost as much. “I have a PhD in history. I have studied Canadian history extensively, but I never heard anything about residential schools, except that they existed,” says Fletcher. “My investigation into the Mohawk residential school opened me up to this history and the myth of who we are as Canadians.” Using some of the revelations she discovered, Fletcher is presently working on a new book she is calling, “We’re not Racist, We’re Canadian — the story of an unconscious nation.”
Although the Mohawk Institute will be used as an example of Canada’s mistreatment of First Nations people across the country, the book will also include other dark chapters in Canada’s history, relative to its racist policies waged against Chinese, Japanese, and Jewish people living within its borders over the years.
Some of the material she found sifting through Anglican church records is revealing, but not nearly as damaging as those found within the RG-10 records of the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA, now known as INAC). “I’ve never understood why the Huron Diocese doesn’t just release what they have,” says Fletcher. “I think the conspiracy is not so much from the Diocese, but rather the Department of Indian Affairs itself. Fragments within the government material show clearly that the DIA had very clear and regular reporting on the M.I. (Mohawk Institute). There were random reports submitted by inspectors almost every month.”
These records show wide discrepancies in what inspectors reported, and did not report, depending on who filed them. “One guy would say that everything was fine and things were running great,” says Fletcher. “Then he’d change jobs or leave and a new inspector would come in and say ‘Oh, my God! It’s a horror show down there. That place should be shut down’. But suddenly, he’d be gone and the next report would be back to saying things were great again.”
Fletcher and her team gained access to the RG-10 files and gathered copies of a lot of reports and records before the government closed them in response to the class-action suit filed against the government and the church by residential school survivors. She does not know if those files will be fully opened to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, or only those documents that reveal what DIA is comfortable with.
“This RG-10 material shows us that they knew what was happening at the Mohawk Institute, but the government chose to do nothing about it; it is clear that the government knew what was happening but not so clear that the Church did,” she says.
As a means of purging herself of the ghosts she stirred up in her investigation, Fletcher wrote a paper using sources that were available in the public domain for the Congress of Learned Societies, presented at a joint session of the Canadian Historical Society and the Canadian Society of Church History where she reveals some of what she found. It is entitled, “The Canadian Experiment with Social Engineering, A Historical Case: The Mohawk Institute.” In it she explains the intent of the original Indian Schools of the 1820s and how that intent systematically devolved into what Fletcher calls, “a human rights nightmare.”
“Ultimately, commitment to civilization metamorphosed into a policy of assimilation … (which) had shifted into a one-sided assumption of British superiority and the silencing of the Aboriginal voice through the legalized dehumanization of First Nations peoples,” Fletcher wrote. “And here, one encounters the paradox — the very attempt as a nation to frame a democracy through increased enfranchisement meant the diminishment of everyone through actualized and systematic dehumanization of its earliest people.”
Her historical research shows that in 1929, Reverend Horace Snell was appointed as the new principal of the Mohawk Institute. He held that position until 1944, managing chronic underfunding throughout the Great Depression and the Second World War during very challenging times.
When Snell retired, under the recommendation of the Six Nations Indian Superintendent, a Six Nations day school teacher, Mr. Joseph Hill, was named as a possible successor at the school. But the Anglican Huron Diocese bitterly objected, insisting an ordained Anglican priest be selected instead. Enter, the infamous Reverend John Zimmerman. A name that many former Mohawk Institute students still cringe over when mentioned.
He was the most feared and loathed person within those walls from 1945 to its announced closure in 1970. “Allegations of mismanagement or misuse of funds (by both Snell and Zimmerman) do surface in the DIA correspondence in several instances,” writes Fletcher.
She goes on to say this mismanagement of already sparse funding directly impacted the children who were deprived of many of their basic needs so the principal and his staff could live more comfortably.
Meanwhile, the children went without proper food, clothing, hygiene, and little personal care and supervision.
A Brantford Expositor article published in 1946, after a surprise visit to the Institute by the Brantford League of Christian Women, revealed the condition of the building’s inadequate sleeping and toilet facilities, calling the state of the building, “abysmal and below any standard suitable to human living’”. Because of the article, Zimmerman was called on the carpet to explain, but in the end, nothing changed.
Two years later, a DIA report sparked another scathing Expositor article in 1948, this time published complete with pictures and drawings of the appalling conditions. But once again little was done to rectify the situation and the DIA inspector that filed the report was soon replaced. Even so, the controversy led to a Grand Jury inquest in 1950.
The jury agreed with the earlier report, calling the conditions “deplorable” and recommending that the school be “watched exceedingly closely” for the next five or six years.
But the recommendations were allowed to be monitored by DIA-appointed agents only, and the results kept from view, except to say that the conditions were greatly improved from what it was like under Snell, which may not be true.
It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that a new kitchen and upgraded laundry facilities were added, making life at the Mush Hole a little better — at least as far as sanitation goes. However, the sexual abuse, malnutrition, and neglect continued, and in some cases, even escalated.
For years, even before Zimmerman, it was necessary for the principal to get permission from Indian Affairs before allowing a child with a medical condition too serious to handle in the third-floor infirmary, to be sent to the hospital for treatment since there was a fee attached to such a service. “My review of the material available suggests that oftentimes the condition of children significantly worsened, sometimes resulting in death, before written permission was granted,” according to Fletcher.
She illustrates that point by using one particularly disturbing case she followed through the DIA records of 1934, during the Snell years.
The sad story involves a four-year-old Six Nations girl named Wilhemina Hill, (aka student number 01059), who was suffering from tuberculosis. Because of her contagious condition, it was recommended she not stay at the school, but she couldn’t go home either because her mother had died and there was no one at home to care for her.
The only alternative was to send the girl to the Brant Sanatorium. But there was a problem.
It would have cost the school $1 a day, and therefore, Snell had to get DIA permission to spend that money. The DIA Secretary in Ottawa, Mr. Mackenzie, did not agree to pay the fee, but he asked the DIA-appointed doctor to assess the situation.
Dr. Davies confirmed the diagnosis and made his recommendation that she be transferred to the sanatorium. What happened next is almost unbelievable.
The record shows that the government would not authorize the expenditure. “Correspondence went back and forth,” recounts Fletcher. “Wilhemina died at the Mohawk Institute before any authorization was given for the transfer.”
Several other students were exposed to Wilhemina during that time, and as a result, others contracted TB as well, some of whom died. All for the want of a dollar a day.