Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum of Human Rights. A comparable residential-school institute is planned on University of Manitoba grounds.
The Canadian Museum For Human Rights (CMHR) is located in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Built in 2008, it was the dream of the late Israel Asper — the best Premier Manitoba never had — to honour Holocaust victims, as well as victims of other human rights atrocities.
One cannot help but be deeply moved by the experience of entering that building and bearing witness to history’s worst human rights crimes.
But there will soon be a competitor in town.
According to University of Manitoba (UofM) the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), the successor to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has been given $60,000,000 and an additional operating budget of $28,500,000 to honour victims of the other Holocaust — the genocide of “thousands of missing children” who “went to residential school and never returned.”
These thousands of children presumably died horrible deaths at residential schools and were secretly buried across the country, sometimes late at night, with the forced help of six year-olds.
The museum will be built at the UofM on land spokespersons say has been donated by them (although it is not clear if NCTR is a legal entity capable of owning land).
The building will house the expanding staff of the NCTR and, with the U of M being the senior partner in this arrangement, the NCTR is basically a group of UofM employees.
The new building is essentially a museum honouring the thousands of residential school students, described as ‘missing children’ on the NCTR’s ‘Memorial Register.’
AFN National Chief Roseanne Archibald (whose status is currently not clear) says “thousands, tens of thousands” of children were deliberately killed at residential schools. According to Archibald, 1,600 bodies have already been returned. Murray Sinclair says more remains will be found.
Other indigenous leaders, such as Chief Willie Sellars, of Williams Lake, BC opine indigenous children were killed and thrown into rivers, streams, lakes and furnaces by priests.
He says there was a decades-long conspiracy between the church, federal government and RCMP to keep this terrible truth from the Canadian public: ‘93 is our number’.
Other chiefs and residential school ‘survivors’ insist that indigenous children were poisoned, clubbed to death, hung on meat hooks and thrown into furnaces.
Even more astounding stories are being put forward regularly, as indigenous communities make use of the tens of millions of dollars given to them, no strings attached, to search for the burial places of all of these unfortunate children.
Of course, the claim that gave rise to all of these other sensational claims was the announcement made in Kamloops in May, 2021 that 215 soil disturbances detected by radar were actually graves of 215 students of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS.)
The students allegedly died under sinister circumstances, however, since that shocking announcement, no further evidence supporting that highly improbable claim has been advanced.
It now seems much more likely that those 215 ‘graves’ were not graves at all, but radar readings showing previous excavations which had occurred on the KIRS grounds.
So, there will be two Winnipeg museums honouring genocide victims.
Except the CMHR will honour real victims, while the $60,000,000 University of Manitoba museum will honour imagined victims.
Because there is not one single piece of credible evidence that there are thousands of missing children.
In fact, there is not one single piece of credible evidence that there is even one such child who fits the category.
There certainly is evidence that children attending residential schools died.
The major cause of death was tuberculosis, but influenza was also a significant cause. However, there is nothing surprising about those deaths from disease. The children who attended residential schools came from reserves with some of the highest tuberculosis rates ever recorded.
It is just a sad fact of history that many children died of diseases one hundred-plus years ago.
Indigenous children were hit particularly hard, because they had not yet acquired the immunity others had and because poverty, overcrowding and lack of sanitation in their shacks made them particularly susceptible to tuberculosis and other common diseases of the day.
The mischievous TRC comparison between disease death rates at residential schools and mainstream schools is deliberately misleading. The proper comparison is between death rates at the schools and rates on the disease-ridden reserves from where the children came.
And the claim that tuberculosis death rates were higher at residential schools than on the reserves is false.
Tuberculosis death rates at residential schools were similar to reserve death rates in the early years, but steadily improved, while tuberculosis death rates onreserves remained high well into the 1950s, when streptomycin brought it down.
It is also true the burial sites of many of the children who died at residential schools have been lost in time.
Most of these children were properly buried on their home reserves. Unfortunately, the families and communities chose not to properly tend the graves and cemeteries, so the locations have been lost in time.
But that is no different for any of the children who attended day schools, or didn’t attend school at all. Those are not missing children. Those are burial sites that have been lost due to inattention.
In all, 423 children are known to have died at residential schools between 1883 and 1996.
That is actually a surprisingly small number. It is possible that the documentation of some deaths in the early years is yet to be found, so the final number could be higher.
However, death from disease was all too common then and there is nothing shocking about these numbers. The TRC Commissioners rather arbitrarily added a few thousand deaths which occurred at hospitals or in homes in a compilation hastily put together by historian John Milloy, to bring the number up to 2,800.
In actual fact, most of these children who died from tuberculosis would have died even if residential schools never existed.
As Dr. Peter Bryce explained, these children arrived at residential schools already infected. Unfortunately, their tuberculosis went into the active stage, and they died. Sad, but they would have died even they had stayed home.
Most of the 423 who actually died at the schools probably died of sudden outbreaks of influenza.
Tuberculosis (consumption) is called the ‘wasting disease’ because it slowly “consumes” the body. The children dying from it would have likely been sent home or to a hospital before their consumption entered the terminal stage.
The 1918 to 1920 Spanish Flu pandemic is the best known influenza outbreak. It was a major killer, but there were many other influenza epidemics as well. Western and northern indigenous people had simply not yet acquired the immunity that others had and died in large numbers.
In short, while it is true that indigenous children who attended residential schools did die of diseases of the day, indigenous children who attended day schools, or no school, died as well at similar rates.
There is no credible evidence that any child who died at a residential school died, or was buried, under sinister circumstances.
Quite the opposite: all credible evidence is that the children were properly buried, most on their homes reserves. The fact that their graves have gone untended is not evidence of malfeasance of any kind.
So, if the University of Manitoba plans to risk its reputation promoting that claim, it might want to have some of its objective academics take a serious look at these claims of sinister deaths and secret burials.
The “Memorial Register” it is now holding out to the public, and to all posterity, as a real list of these ‘missing children’ is nothing of the kind.
It lists children who died from accidents that occurred long after their residential school attendance. In fact, it contains names, such as Helen Betty Osborne, whose death had nothing whatsoever to do with her attendance years before at a residential school.
It even contains the names of elderly people; the oldest one was 85 when he died.
This list is definitely not a list of missing children.
Many were definitely not children when they died, and both their cause of death and place of burial are on their death certificates, so they were never missing.
Most importantly, the deaths of these adults had nothing whatsoever to do with residential schools. The Memorial Register is a fraud.
And the stories about thousands of residential school children who died under sinister circumstances and were secretly buried are just that: Stories. There is not one bit of credible evidence that even a single child falls into that category.
As far as the broader question of whether the bad done by residential schools outweighs the good, or vice versa, is concerned, that question can be left for real historians. At some point politics should be set aside, and this important issue can be properly studied by experts.
And perhaps the senior people who make decisions on behalf of the UofM should ask themselves some questions before proceeding beyond the point of no return with this project.
For instance, is the Memorial Register what it purports to be or is it more in the nature of a high school year book that pays tribute to long forgotten family members for reasons completely unrelated to any one’s wrongdoing?
And is the UofM living up to the commitment found in the trust deed giving it its mandate to make all residential school-related documents and information available to the public for the benefit of the people of Canada in perpetuity.
Or is it doing the exact opposite by restricting information to certain favoured groups, and even contemplating dabbling in such regressive concepts as “Indigenous data sovereignty?”
Is the U of M building an institution that will promote truth and reconciliation, or is it instead promoting anti-Catholic bigotry, based on false stories about murderous priests and secret burials?
Is it even true that the NCTR has been given $60,000,000 and land from the UofM, or is the reality that this money is owned by the UofM and no land has been transferred?
Is the U of M building something that can help Canadians understand their history, or is the building meant for the exclusive use of what is essentially a cult that believes in conspiracy theories involving murderous priests and secret burials?
These are a but few of the questions that should be asked before the project proceeds any further.
But while the U of M worthies are asked these questions, I repeat they should take a close look at that Memorial Register.
It looks suspiciously like the TRC’s original, hastily compiled Death Register of 2,800, with names then added willynilly by NCTR.
Finally, why in heaven’s name is the federal government financing and encouraging the NCTR and UofM in what is a massive deception of the public?
The sentiments and politics of the day are whimsical, and change over time.
Federal governments come and go, as does current public opinion.
But the University of Manitoba, with its long and honourable history, will still be here fifty years from now.
Perhaps it would be a good idea for the serious people there to take a good look now at what it is risking by staking its reputation on the missing children claim.
Because soon visitors will be visiting that grand new $60,000,000 building.
The University of Manitoba will be holding this out as a visit akin to the visit to the real Asper Holocaust museum.
The Memorial Register will be presented to these visitors as something very real: A real list of children who went to school and never returned.
Will history indeed judge these thousands of missing children as being just like the very real victims represented at the CMHR? Or will history judge the claim to be the single biggest fraud in Canadian history?
And will The UofM then be forever known as a major perpetrator of that fraud?
I end this article with a final note of caution.
What I have written, and what I have written elsewhere on the subject of missing children and residential schools might soon become illegal.
A Senate committee has very recently recommended to the government that “it take every action necessary to deal with residential school denialism.”
Every one of the articles and essays my research colleagues and I have written questioning the missing children claims, from the original Kamloops claim of 215 graves to the many other copycat claims that follow, would become illegal if this recommendation is followed.
If you believe that it should not be a criminal offence to read or write articles such as this, contact your MP or Senator and give them your opinion about proposed Orwellian laws muzzling what is being mischievously called residential school denialism.
For more information on this topic, please visit our website at IRSRG. To view original documents relating to residential schools go here.
Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. First published here.
Read The Dangerous Allure Of Omitting Facts And Historical Context On Residential Schools here by Michelle Stirling
Read Debate Needed on Claim Children were Buried at Residential Schools by Rodney Clifton.