11 Dec 2010

Canadian Truth Commission investigates fate of thousands of aboriginal children who died in mysterious circumstances

Canwest News Service - Winnipeg Free Press Canada June 18, 2010

'Spirits still crying' of residential-school children who died unknown

By Mary Agnes Welch | Canwest News Service


WINNIPEG — The freak accident that killed Joe Harper's friend Joseph at the Cross Lake residential school was bad enough. But it still rankles Harper, 50 years on, that Joseph died in obscurity.

"There was never a funeral for him," said Harper, as he stood outside one of the tents Thursday at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's first national event, which is being held in Winnipeg this week.

"I don't even know how his parents ever found out."

Besides Joseph, who was injured and died while sliding down a hill onto a frozen lake, Harper said many Cross Lake students, including himself, suffered from chronic tuberculosis, and there were many students who never made it home.

The fate of thousands of children who died at residential schools is the biggest historical mystery the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hopes to solve.

Led by historian John Milloy of Trent University in Ontario, the commission's research boss, a team will spend the next four years making an inventory of every child who died and how they perished — whether it was tuberculosis, drowning, the 1919 flu pandemic, neglect, nefarious doings or myriad other tragedies.

Some believe that as many as 50,000 children died, a widely reported figure that some say is likely a dramatic overstatement.

Until now, though, no one has made a serious count, or tried to determine where the children now lay, whether it's in overgrown, unmarked cemeteries near former schools or nearby churchyards.

The mystery of the missing children has cropped up repeatedly during this week's event in Winnipeg, including Thursday, when one Saskatchewan survivor choked up while talking about classmates who died in anonymity.

"Their spirits are still crying," said Darwin Blind, who attended the infamous Gordon's School north of Regina, where pedophilia was rampant.

"There are all these unmarked graves, and when you dig around where the schools are, you dig up the bones."

Blind was speaking to commissioners in their statement-gathering tent.

Despite miserable weather, the tent was crowded all day Thursday until organizers shut down all outdoor activities in the late afternoon due to rain and high winds.

Tuberculosis, which still plagues many remote aboriginal reserves, was a common killer at residential schools. A TB outbreak at the Cecilia Jeffrey school in Kenora, Ont., in 1925 killed seven students and, 20 years later, the disease still infected a quarter of them.

Fires were also common. At Harper's school in Cross Lake, a fire in 1930 killed a teacher and a dozen students.

This summer, Milloy and his army of researchers will start combing through thousands of documents stored in government archives and in about 40 different church collections. They'll be looking for any hint about a child who died.

"People write things in the margins of letters," he said. "There are diaries where children are mentioned. . . . We'll look at it all."

As a matter of policy, the government tossed many residential school records every five years, so there are frustrating gaps in the documentation.

That's why researchers will also scour the memories of survivors, including the 1,000 that will give official statements to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event this week.

Statement-takers will explicitly probe whether a survivor knew of a child who died at their school.

A team of historians and archeologists will also do site surveys of any graveyard they hear about, which could lead to better commemoration of each cemetery.

One thing the commission won't do is dig up bones to do DNA testing — it's up to elders and each community to determine what to do with the remains.

"If you finally know where your child is, and you can go put flowers on the grave, literally or figuratively, it gives you some sense of closure," said Milloy.

This article was found at:

http://www.canada.com/health/story.html?id=3168379

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Canwest News Service - Winnipeg Free Press Canada June 18, 2010

Pilot recalls flying terrified kids to residential school

By Larry Kusch, Canwest News Service


WINNIPEG — The sad memories are still vivid for Lynn Bishop 40 years later — a remote northwestern Ontario lake, two distressed aboriginal children and their grim, heartbroken parents.

Bishop, now a retired Winnipeg businessman but then a university student working as a commercial pilot in the summer, was told to fly to a specific spot on the shoreline to pick up children for return to Kenora, Ont.

"I was told that at a point on the shoreline there would be two small children to bring back to the base where they would attend the nearby residential school," Bishop, then 27, recounted in a sharing circle at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's first national event, which is being held this week in Winnipeg.

When he landed his six-seat Cessna float plane at the appointed spot, he was struck by the fact that there was "no dwelling of any kind, no structure, no tent and, unless I missed it, no boat."

There wasn't even a dock.

"When I got out, I could sense immediately that there was a high sense of discomfort and stress within this group," Bishop told the sharing circle, which included residential-school survivors and Justice Murray Sinclair, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"The father was very sombre-faced and grim. The little boy, who I would guess was eight years old, was expressionless but you could tell (was) tense."

"The mother, who it was apparent had been crying . . . was in a very high state of anxiety. The little girl, who I would guess to be six years old — no more than six — was trembling and sobbing and clutching her mother's garment with a death grip."

Bishop, who went on to manage Winnipeg's airport and serve as an executive with the Cargojet airline, said the children's father told him that the young girl was about to be separated from her mother for the first time. It was late August and the children were not scheduled to see their parents until the following June.

"We took off and I recall thinking . . . I would do a pass and bank (the plane) so that the kids could wave at the parents. . . . That was a mistake because all it did was heighten the sense of separation and the tenseness. And we now had two very upset (children) — the little girl, I would think, in clinical terms you could call traumatized, at that point," Bishop said.

He said the children both "wailed and sobbed" all the way back to Kenora, a trip that lasted well over an hour.

However, the final indignity was still to come, he said with a sigh.

When they landed in Kenora, there was nobody to welcome the children — only a taxi parked on the dock waiting to take them to the residential school.

"I can recall clearly carrying the two small suitcases . . . to the car.

The children climbed into the back seat and the taxi drove up a hill, turned right and was out of sight.

The heartless treatment the frightened children received angered and disgusted Bishop, inspiring him to come forward to share his story four decades later.

"No chaperon, no welcome, no adult, no words of welcome and I remember thinking, 'How cold and uncaring can this get?' "

Bishop said the events of that day "had a very disturbing effect" upon him, but over time the memory receded — until he began to read about the horrors and abuse that took place in so many residential schools in Canada.

He told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the more he read, the more "significant that day became" and the more he wondered about whatever became of those two children.


This article was found at:

http://www.canada.com/topics/news/story.html?id=3168565


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