What else do we not know about the history of residential schools?
When will we know what really happened?
By Matthew Fraser, Editor in Chief
The internet is full of strange and surprising tidbits of information. Some of them are fantastic and intriguing, while others are shocking and highlight the dark underbelly of human history. One such tidbit came from an Instagram video originally created for TikTok by Levert the Bassman.
In this video, Levert introduces watchers to the history of the Canadian Food Guide and its roots in the First Nations Nutrition Experiments. In his video, Levert introduces us to three key players: Dr. Lionel Pett, a scientist whose experiments were often conducted on starving Indigenous children; Dr. Percy Moore, Indian Affairs branch superintendent of medical services, and Frederick Tisdall, former president of the Canadian pediatrics society. Under the direction of these three men, untold numbers of Indigenous children were intentionally starved to collect data. As many of these children died from malnutrition, these doctors made no effort to improve the intentionally constructed conditions leading to this misery. They elected instead to look on dispassionately.
I was shocked that the first time I had heard about this was through a TikTok video. It put into perspective the sheer amount of history that is unknown specifically regarding the horrendous treatment that occurred in residential schools. The physical, emotional and sexual abuse has been revealed slowly in the past few years, but this makes me understand that there is much more to learn and unearth. What made it all the worse for me was that this information has been widely known since at least 2013.
When I ventured to google to see exactly how much of this information was true and for how long this had been available, I was shocked to find that the academic paper revealing this history had been released in 2013 by Ian Mosby. CBC interviewed the historian and Ryerson University professor about the paper in April of this year but somehow, it slipped under the radar. So I have to wonder, how much more is known but uncirculated regarding residential schools? What else do we not know about the history of residential schools? Which other ideas or aspects of modern knowledge were derived from the torture of Indigenous children and will we ever truly know?
Unfortunately, the Canadian government has destroyed 15 tons of paper documents and sealed countless more records. Additionally, the Catholic church has been uncooperative in providing access to its documents. As a result, no matter how meticulously historians and justice seekers work, they will still be on the wrong side of an information wall; a wall that has protected abusers from exposure and shielded horrific acts from hard scrutiny and eventual reconciliation. Though I am optimistic that many of these truths will be unearthed and that those who will one day be in power will elect to reveal what is left in record, I am afraid that this day will take far too long to come.