Aboriginal children at residential schools often buried in unmarked graves, report reveals

Aboriginal children attending residential schools died at a higher rate than school-aged children in the general population, and were often buried in unmarked graves, according to the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

See Full Article

The commission released its final report Tuesday afternoon, marking the culmination of six years of research and interviews with more than 6,000 residential school survivors and their families.

It is estimated that more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were separated from their families and forced into residential schools over much of the last century.

The final report contains an entire volume dedicated to the children who died or went missing while attending residential schools. It also sheds light on the poor practices used at the schools to record the deaths, bury the dead, and inform the students' families.

It found that the government never established health and safety standards at its residential schools, and failed to enforce what minimal standards it had in place.

This failure was due to the government's "determination" to keep residential school costs low, the report said. It also resulted in "unnecessarily high death rates" at residential schools.

The commission found the following:

  • 3,200 students died while attending residential schools from 1867 to 2000.
  • For 32 per cent of these deaths, the government and the schools did not record the name of the students who died.
  • For 49 per cent of these deaths, the government and the residential schools did not record the cause of death.
  • For 23 per cent of these deaths, the gender of the student was not recorded.
  • The majority of deaths took place before 1940. Prior to 1940, there were 1,150 deaths for which no name was provided. After 1940, there are 44 death reports that do not provide the student's name.
  • Many residential schools did not send the students’ bodies back to their home communities after they died. Instead, many were buried in cemeteries that have since been abandoned and are "vulnerable to accidental disturbance."

The report noted that many aboriginal families have "unanswered questions" about what happened to their children or relatives who were forced to attend residential schools.

"The tragedy of the loss of children was compounded by the fact that burial places were distant or even unknown," the report said.

Conditions at schools

The report also contained descriptions from survivors of the living conditions at the residential schools.

According to survivors' accounts, diseases such as tuberculosis rampaged student populations, and poor medical care was provided.

Accidental deaths were common, and the report includes accounts of children dying in boating and plane accidents.

The report also noted that the poorly maintained school buildings often became fire traps. According to the report, 19 boys died in a single fire in Beauval, Sask., in 1927.

"The high death toll was partially attributable to inadequate fire escapes," the report said.

Many students also died or disappeared after attempting to run away from the residential schools, the report said.

In one account, four boys ran away from a school in Fort Albany, Ont. in 1941. The boys were presumed drowned and their bodies were never recovered, the report said.

Abandoned cemeteries

Many of the cemeteries where the students were buried have since been abandoned, the report said.

In one case, a school cemetery in Battleford, Sask., became neglected after the school closed in 1914. At the time, the school's principal warned the government that 70 to 80 individuals were buried at the cemetery, most of them students.

"He worried that unless the government took steps to care for the cemetery, it would be overrun by stray cattle," the report said.

The report highlighted a case in 2001, when water erosion of the banks of Alberta's Bow Highwood River exposed the remains of at least 34 bodies of former residential school students. The bodies were eventually exhumed and reburied in aboriginal and Christian ceremonies, the report said.

These tragic examples point to the fact that many students who went to residential schools never returned to their homes, the report said.

"Their parents were often uninformed of their sickness and death. They were buried away from their families in long-neglected graves," the report said. "No one took care to count how many died or to record where they were buried."

The report said many basic questions about missing residential school students have never been addressed by the Canadian government.

Earlier this year, Justice Murray Sinclair, who headed the commission, said that the number of students who died is likely higher; estimating that up to 6,000 children may have died while under the care of residential schools.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Report to urge charges against Brazil's leader over pandemic

    World News CBC News
    Brazilians will turn their focus on Wednesday to the Senate, where a report six months in the making will recommend President Jair Bolsonaro be indicted on criminal charges for allegedly bungling the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and pushing the country's death toll to second-highest in the world. Source
  • Nikolas Cruz set to plead guilty to Parkland massacre

    World News CTV News
    FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- Nikolas Cruz is scheduled to plead guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder Wednesday for the 2018 shooting massacre at a Florida high school, as his attorneys turn their focus to saving him from a death sentence. Source
  • Volcano in southern Japan erupts with massive smoke column

    World News CTV News
    TOKYO -- A volcano in southern Japan erupted Wednesday with a massive column of gray smoke billowing into the sky. The Japan Meteorological Agency raised the warning level for Mount Aso to three on a scale of five, warning hikers and residents to avoid the mountain. Source
  • Negotiations drag on over 17 missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

    World News CTV News
    PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Negotiations stretched into a fourth day seeking the return of 17 members of a U.S.-based missionary group kidnapped over the weekend by a violent gang that is demanding US$1 million ransom per person. Source
  • 4-time Stanley Cup winner Mike Bossy reveals lung cancer diagnosis

    Canada News CBC News
    Former New York Islanders winger and TVA hockey analyst Mike Bossy is battling lung cancer. He announced the news in a letter to TVA Sports Tuesday. "It is with a lot of sadness that I need to step away from your screens for a necessary pause. Source
  • Brazil senators readying call for Bolsonaro criminal charges

    World News CTV News
    BRASILIA, BRAZIL -- Brazilian senators met into Tuesday night discussing a report that will recommend President Jair Bolsonaro be indicted on criminal charges for allegedly bungling the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and pushing the country's death toll to second-highest in the world. Source
  • Mexico touts renewables, while blocking solar, wind projects

    World News CTV News
    MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's government claimed Tuesday that it is leading a transition to more renewable energy, even though President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is pushing to restrict private wind and solar projects. In a statement following a visit by U.S. Source
  • 'By mistake they shot me': Coquitlam, B.C., man who survived shooting hoping for justice

    Canada News CTV News
    COQUITLAM, B.C. - A Metro Vancouver man says it’s a miracle he’s alive after becoming the innocent victim of a shooting earlier this year. Speaking through a translator on Tuesday, Nader Ahmadirad said he was working a second job at a food delivery company in January when he was shot multiple times outside a local home. Source
  • Squid Game and other popular titles help propel Netflix to higher 3rd-quarter earnings

    World News CBC News
    Netflix posted sharply higher third-quarter earnings Tuesday thanks to a stronger slate of titles, including Squid Game, the dystopian survival drama from South Korea that the company says became its biggest-ever TV show. The company has ramped up production, rebounding from pandemic-induced delays in the first half of the year. Source
  • Facebook pays $4.75M US fine plus back pay to settle suit alleging it favoured foreign workers

    World News CBC News
    Facebook is paying a $4.75 million US ($5.87 million Cdn) fine and up to $9.5 million US ($11.8 million Cdn) to eligible victims to resolve the U.S. Justice Department's allegations that it discriminated against American workers in favour of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs. Source