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RE: Some questions about Kamloops: rushing to judgement without the facts - Brian Giesbrecht’s op-ed in the Winnipeg Sun, June 5/21

“It is not clear at this point how many of the bodies detected were residential students. It’s also not clear that there was even anything sinister about the discovery.” Giesbrecht’s assumptions are startling. He implies that since times were tough back then lots of people died, not only Indigenous.

Fair enough. So how about a few facts. Here’s a quote from Duncan Campbell Scott the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, responsible for the residential school program from 1913 to the 1930’s.

“It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habitating so closely in these schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is being geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem."i (emphasis mine)

This was in response to the 1907 report of Dr. Peter Bryce, whose recommendations to correct the severe underfunding and neglect of the children’s health (on average 24% of the children had died, often within their first year). In The Story of a National Crime published in 1922, after he had left the civil service, Bryce reported: “one school on the File Hills reserve, … 75 per cent were dead … since the school opened.”ii D.C. Scott actively suppressed any mention of the conditions in the schools and on the reserves, to the public, the medical profession and even to parliament. This was not benign neglect, but active interference in all attempts to remedy the appalling conditions.iii

The reference to the “final solution” is particularly disturbing to me personally, because these are the exact words the Nazis used in unleashing the Holocaust- “the final solution to the Jewish problem”. Knowing Hitler’s approving interest in British colonial practice, the use of the concept does not seem coincidental, as Anishinaabe scholar D’Arcy Rheaultiv has shown. Here is one revealing example he found from Hitler biographer John Toland - “Hitler's concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much … to his studies of British and North American history. … [He] often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America's extermination by starvation and uneven combat of the “Red Savages‟v University of Saskatchewan historian Maureen Lux presents a detailed account of how the residential schools in Canada had a similar intent, thanks to D.C. Scott’s final solutionvi.

There are first persons accounts too - survivors telling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of children beaten to death, of constant hunger, medical experimentation, forced sterilizationvii

We might have come a long way since the 1910 “History of Canada” textbook for Ontario Public Schools taught young Canadians that: “All Indians were superstitious, having strange ideas about nature. … Such were the people whom the pioneers of our own race found lording it over the North American continent – this untamed savage of the forest who could not bring himself to submit to the restraints of European life.”viii

Imagine it was your child who didn’t come home from school. No search. No investigation. Just feigned ignorance; being told your child was “missing” as one might refer to a lost cat. The discovery of the children’s remains was a shock to the Canadian public, as was the revelation of the Nazi concentration camps after liberation. In response to the camps the world was spurred to develop the new concept of human rights, and the Universal Declaration was ratified by almost every nation. Canada has ratified the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. Perhaps the revelation of the graves will spur us to act on it.

Dr. David Burman


i Department of Indian Affairs Superintendent D.C. Scott to B.C. Indian Agent-General Major D. McKay, DIA Archives, RG 1-Series 12 April 1910

ii Bryce, Peter H. The Story of a National Crime. Ottawa: James Hope and Sons, 1922.

iii many authors have reported on conditions in the schools, e.g. Edmund Mettataawabin Up Ghost River; Anna Mehler Paperny We were always hungry, Global News June 10, 2021. Ian Mosby on experiments on childhood malnutrition Food historian discovers Federal Government experimented on aboriginal children during and after WWII – CBC As it Happens June 16, 2013

iv D’Arcy Rheault Solving the “Indian Problem” Assimilation Laws, Practices & Indian Residential Schools 2011 specialedition8.pdf (omfrc.org)

v (John Toland, "Adolf Hitler" Vol II, 1976 NY: Doubleday); James Pool, “Hitler and His Secret Partners” 1998 NY: Simon and Schuster The Final Solution - Which Government Used the Term First? (ictinc.ca)

vi Maureen Lux, Medicine that Walks: Disease, Medicine, and Canadian Plains Native People, 1880-1940, U of T press, 2003

vii Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada 2001 Hidden from History: the Canadian Holocaust, http://canadiangenocide.nativeweb.org/genocide.pdf

viii D’Arcy Rheault Solving the “Indian Problem”


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