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This article was published 2/6/2015 (2054 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Students who attended residential schools in Canada died in far higher numbers than the Canadian population as a whole but the true extent of the problem may never be known, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported today.
In a chapter on health at residential schools in the executive summary of its report released today, the commissioners say students at residential schools in the early 1940s, for example, were 4.9 times as likely to die as other Canadians. By the 1960s, although death rates in residential schools had dropped, the students attending them still had death rates twice those of the general school-aged population.
As part of its work, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created a National Residential School Death Register, trying for the first time to properly document the number of students who died, and as much as possible, their names.
The register currently has three groupings -- a list of named students who died, a list of confirmed deaths of unnamed students, and a list of deaths that require further investigation.
Between 1867 and 1940, 2,434 student deaths have been documented by the TRC on the named and unnamed registers. The names of the students are known in about half of those deaths.
TRC co-commissioner Marie Wilson said the "indignity" of the fact student’s names were not even recorded when they died "is both shocking and saddening."
In a speech to survivors this morning Wilson said the government never established the kind of standards and regulations to ensure students at residential schools were treated with the same care "that any parent would expect."
In one chilling statement she said many schools had cemeteries but no playground.
And she said the commission found evidence churches and the government ignored students when they complained about the abuse being suffered. They failed to investigate complaints and report abuse to police.
Most of the bodies of children who died were never sent back to their home communities. Some families still do not know where their children are buried or what happened to them.
After 1940, the TRC has documented the deaths of about 750 students.
The task is arduous because record-keeping was shoddy at best, and Indian Affairs allowed records to be destroyed after five or 10 years. Between 1936 and 1944, more than 200,000 Indian Affairs files were destroyed.
Many reports that are available are incomplete. About half of the deaths that have been tracked have no known cause of death, because it simply was not recorded in documents keeping track of the deaths.
Principals would often record the number of deaths of students each year in their annual reports but not include any of the names of the students who died.
Indian Affairs didn’t develop a policy for reporting on deaths in residential schools until 1935, the TRC says.
"The number of students who died at Canada’s residential schools is not likely ever to be known in full," the report says.
From documents that do list the cause of death, tuberculosis accounts for almost half the deaths that can be identified.
Influenza, pneumonia and other lung diseases were the next most common causes of death.
Conditions in the schools -- poor construction, poor ventilation, a lack of proper heating and poor quality construction materials along with inadequate water and fuel supplies, made the schools unhealthy environments, the report concludes.
"The buildings were not only fire traps," the report says. "They were also incubators of disease."
Fires were a major problem and the schools were not equipped to deal with them. The TRC documented 53 schools that were destroyed by fire, and another 170 fires that didn’t fully destroy schools. At least 40 students died in residential school fires.
Many schools had no infirmaries where ill students could be properly cared for, and those that did often had inadequate facilities, the report says. School budgets were also so strapped there was often no money to hire nurses to run infirmaries anyway.
Some parents also were never told how their children died and have never been able to identify a gravesite.