3,000 confirmed Indian residential school deaths

Residential School classColin Perkel, Canadian Press, Feb 2013

At least 3,000 children, including four under the age of 10 found huddled together in frozen embrace, are now known to have died during attendance at Canada’s Indian residential schools, according to new unpublished research. While deaths have long been documented as part of the disgraced residential school system, the findings are the result of the first systematic search of government, school and other records.
“These are actual confirmed numbers,” Alex Maass, research manager with the Missing Children Project, told The Canadian Press from Vancouver. “All of them have primary documentation that indicates that there’s been a death, when it occurred, what the circumstances were.”
The number could rise further as more documents — especially from government archives — come to light. The largest single killer, by far, was disease. For decades starting in about 1910, tuberculosis was a consistent killer — in part because of widespread ignorance over how diseases were spread.
“The schools were a particular breeding ground for (TB),” Maass said. “Dormitories were incubation wards.” The Spanish flu epidemic in 1918-1919 also took a devastating toll on students — and in some cases staff.
For example, in one grim three-month period, the disease killed 20 children at a residential school in Spanish, Ont., the records show. While a statistical analysis has yet to be done, the records examined over the past few years also show children also died of malnutrition or accidents.
Schools consistently burned down, killing students and staff. Drownings or exposure were another cause. In all, about 150,000 First Nations children went through the church-run residential school system, which ran from the 1870s until the 1990s.
In many cases, native kids were forced to attend under a deliberate federal policy of “civilizing” Aboriginal Peoples.Residential-school girls class Many students were physically, mentally and sexually abused. Some committed suicide. Some died fleeing their schools. One heart-breaking incident that drew rare media attention at the time involved the deaths of four boys — two aged 8 and two aged 9 — in early January 1937. A Canadian Press report from Vanderhoof, B.C., describes how the four bodies were found frozen together in slush ice on Fraser Lake, barely a kilometre from home. The “capless and lightly clad” boys had left an Indian school on the south end of the lake “apparently intent on trekking home to the Nautley Reserve,” the article states. A coroner’s inquest later recommended “excessive corporal discipline” of students be “limited.”
The records reveal the number of deaths only fell off dramatically after the 1950s, although some fatalities occurred into the 1970s. “The question I ask myself is: Would I send my child to a private school where there were even a couple of deaths the previous year without looking at it a little bit more closely?” Maass said. “One wouldn’t expect any death rates in private residential schools.” In fact, Maass said, student deaths were so much part of the system, architectural plans for many schools included cemeteries that were laid out in advance of the building. Maass, who has a background in archeology, said researchers had identified 50 burial sites as part of the project. About 500 of the victims remain nameless. Documentation of their deaths was contained in Department of Indian Affairs year-end reports based on information from school principals. The annual death reports were consistently done until 1917, when they abruptly stopped. “It was obviously a policy not to report them,” Maass said.
In the 1990s, thousands of victims sued the churches that ran the 140 schools and the Canadian government. A $1.9-billion settlement of the lawsuit in 2007 prompted an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The research — carried out under the auspices of the commission — has involved combing through more than one million government and other records, including nuns’ journal entries. The longer-term goal is to make the information available at national research centre.
[For me, this report is suspicious since we know there are first-person narratives that describe murders of children in these schools…and the numbers are misleading since many of the schools hid records of deaths (murders)… Lara/Trace]


  1. When I immigrated to Canada from the US in 1970, a neighbour asked me if I had come because of all the racial problems in the States. I replied “no” as we had come because of the Viet Nam War. This family drove us into downtown Winnipeg. They explained rather proudly that Canada had no problems with race — that it was a Country of immigrants who lived together peacefully. Although some of that may be true, I also could not miss seeing many very poor Native peoples who this man referred to as “squaws” and joked about how any man could have them for “two beers on a Saturday night.”
    Later I obtained a BA and a BSW from UVic. While I was there I took a class entitled “Racism and Anti-Semitism in Canada.” There were only 12 in that first class because the consenses was that the class was un-necessary as “there is no racism in Canada.” Oh dear. And the class on Natives was pretty shocking. This was during the mid and late 1970s.
    Now I have a daughter-in-law whose Japanese parents and grandparents were interred during the war. Raised a Roman Catholic, I have left the Church because of sexual abuse by the priests both in and out of Residential Schools. And I saw the shocking attitudes and continue to see the attitudes of other wise caring Canadians toward our Native Peoples. Forty years of being Canadian has ensured me that Canadians are racist but just don’t like to face it. The story about the Residential Schools is so shocking that I see it in the same terms as the American experience with slavery. People were kept in captivity, their children were taken away and raped by so called God fearing white people. I am saddened on both counts. I will be at the rally and continue to speak out.


    • Patricia, Thank you very much for sharing this story.. It’s so appreciated.
      Indeed, North America is infested with racism.


  2. I’m a product of the genocide that started in Little Canada so long ago. It was the master’s plan to genocide or water down the Natives’ by marrying into them and or sending them to boarding schools to cause them assimilate to the Europeans. The Canadian gov. made it a point to deliberately OMIT the Indians of the Trois Rivieres Area, and only one God Fearing Priest spoke up for the Natives. Souless savages we were referred to. My direct lineage begins with an “enclave” , (slave) and it brakes my heart to know that my ancestor was a slave, I only hope he and his wife did not die as a slave, but i’m not sure yet. Research is pending. However, having Native blood continuity right into my generation is proof we still are here. I personally evolve from 5 different Clans 4 of which is Algonquin. Though I celebrate all 5, the government will only let me claim one clan and it has to be the most recent. And with the current status of North America and Canada’s economy, it will be another 100 yrs to get recognition from both Government’s . I feel First Nation People should always have duel citizenship between North America and Canada and even South American Native’s. We were not the ones to draw the line between 3 countries Europeans did that. I love being Metis, but sometimes when I reflect on how my ancestors and I even get treated today because “I’M NOT QUITE WHITE ENOUGH”, it saddens me to know Native American History is STILL in the making. If I can celebrate the France’ heritage, I should be free to celebrate the First Nation Heritage…Please set us free once and for all let us be who we are and love us the way we are.

    Debbie Millette-Blais-Sanchez


  3. I never understood the hatred for American natives, they are some of the most peaceful people on earth. Of course when attacked or provoked as they have been through history they fight back..I remember dressing as Geronimo when I was 5 for Halloween, he was a hero to me. I read about the Wisconsin tribes and they were so industrious and hard working living off the land, everything I have always admired in any people group… I am just sadder every day I live how there is so much hate and ignorance in this world, why people can’t just live in peace, judge each person on their own merits, not a group because 1 or 2 people are bad…


    • Hi Shawn, I so agree with you – but each of us has the right to be peaceful in ourselves – if each of us does this, we can change the world. Be the Peace… xoxox Lara


  4. So hard to believe , isn’t it ?As a child I asked why do we need history lessons ? Was told , so we do not make the same mistakes again !!!


    • If we do not teach history, the true history, yes, we are doomed to repeat it… Thank you Linda, it is hard to believe such atrocity happened in North America…


  5. This happened in the usa too.
    They still take kids. Put em in the nuthouse. Give em shock treatment all in the name of mental illness…they hold there til they drive them crazy shock treatment make em subsurvient to white people. To make em into their idea of a good indian! Butte montana has a childrens nuthouse doing this.


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