Indigenous tuberculosis platform seeks to bridge historical gap

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After years of digging up patient files and burial information, a team of Manitoba researchers is set to launch a website on Indigenous histories of tuberculosis — with the hope the information will help families locate long-missing relatives.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/02/2022 (234 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After years of digging up patient files and burial information, a team of Manitoba researchers is set to launch a website on Indigenous histories of tuberculosis — with the hope the information will help families locate long-missing relatives.

“I think most people can relate to the fact that if a family member just vanishes, that’s devastating,” University of Winnipeg archivist Anne Lindsay said Tuesday.

Lindsay’s focus was on the data for people who ended up in what were then-called “Indian hospitals” and tuberculosis sanatoriums. She hopes www.indigenoustbhistory.ca — set to launch fully in March — will help bring some closure.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Dr. Anne Lindsay does archival research in support of locating burial sites of missing Indigenous patients who never returned from Manitoba Tuberculosis Hospitals.

“Right from the beginning, people have been asking for some sort of guide or help to be able to find where loved ones were buried. A lot of people know that somebody went away, they didn’t come back, and that’s it.”

Currently, the barriers to tracking lost loved ones are significant, Lindsay said. Her archival work has included sifting through records from all levels of government, cemeteries, residential schools, hospitals and beyond.

“There’s just a huge range of places that people may have to look,” she said. “It is overwhelming. We’re trying to break it into sections.”

That sort of sleuthing can be prohibitive for many, and even for an archivist such as Lindsay, it’s not always possible to puzzle together all the pieces of certain histories. There are many gaps in the records, she said.

Records may lead all the way to a patient’s death but there may be no available record of which cemetery they were buried in.

Many children were transferred to hospitals and tuberculosis sanitariums from residential schools, Lindsay said.

“I’ve done research in residential school cemeteries and death in the past, and so I knew there was a connection. But I didn’t appreciate the degree and the number of kids who were being sent to the cemetery,” she said.

Erin Millions, research director for the Manitoba Indigenous Tuberculosis Project (a larger framework within which Lindsay’s research falls), said it shines a light on the work that must be done to identify where children from residential schools are buried.

“I think that research on the burials really highlights that we have to be examining the tuberculosis hospitals in co-ordination with the residential schools, because there’s so many of those children who were sent to the hospitals and died there,” Millions said.

While researchers comprise the team, the project goes beyond academia, she said.

“The research project is Indigenous-led and community engaged,” Millions said. “Community engaged here really means to us that we are here to do the work that former patients’ families and communities want us to do around the histories of Indigenous tuberculosis.

“All of our initiatives have been in response to requests from family and communities, including burials and including an oral history project.”

Lindsay said the group is moving with urgency.

“It can be stressful, and there’s also a sense of time running out,” she said. “Because if you look at the age of people who have been patients in the sanitoria, they’re getting older.”

That means to get firsthand accounts, they need to move quick; even those who are seeking answers are getting older now, too, Lindsay said.

fpcity@freepress.mb.ca

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