Thunder Bay·Audio

'Indian hospital' survivors want in on residential school agreement

A group of residential school survivors is renewing a push to see Fort William Indian Hospital Sanatorium added to the residential school settlement agreement.

Archival documents show Fort William sanatorium, residential schools closely linked, survivors say

The Fort William Indian Hospital Sanatorium School in Thunder Bay, Ont. closed in 1971. Its role as a treatment centre for tuberculosis ended in 1974, according to newly-released archival documents. (Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre)
Former patients of the Fort William Indian Hospital Sanatorium make a new push for compensation under the residential school agreement. We'll hear why.
A group of residential school survivors is renewing a push to see Fort William Indian Hospital Sanatorium added to the residential school settlement agreement.

The sanatorium was located in what is now Thunder Bay and began admitting First Nations children as early as 1940. The "Indian Hospital School" closed in 1974.

Residential school survivors want it declared a school under the residential school settlement agreement so they can apply for compensation for years spent at the hospital, and make claims for damages for abuse suffered there. But the government argues the sanatorium functioned as a day school and is therefore not subject to the agreement.

'They were confined'

Residential school survivor Mike Cachagee is among those making the push to have the Fort William Sanatorium recognized as a residential school. (
Mike Cachagee, one of the survivors behind the new court submission, said Indian Affairs remained the legal guardian for students regardless of whether they were in school or hospital.

"How they define other day schools is that the children left home, went to day school and returned home at night. This doesn't happen in either the residential school or the hospitals. They were confined,"  he said.

Survivors have submitted a new request for direction to the courts, asking for the inclusion of the Fort William sanatorium to be reconsidered. The request includes newly-released archival documents that point to close links between residential schools and the sanatoriums. 

Schools became 'de facto sanatoriums'

At times the two institutions were nearly indistinguishable, according to researcher Edward Sadowski, who submitted the request for direction.

"Because of the shortages of beds at sanatoriums and hospital schools, residential schools received a subsidy of 15 cents per day per student for each student who had TB," Sadowski writes. "Some residential schools had TB case rates as high as 80 per cent, becoming de facto sanatoriums."

Historian Maureen Lux researches Indian hospitals and agrees the ties between the institutions were very close, with Indian Affairs paying for the teachers and the books, while the Department of National Health and Welfare paid for sanatoriums.

"For patients, very often they would come from the residential schools and spend time in the hospital and then be returned to the schools so there was a kind of seamlessness between institutions," Lux said.

Arguments over burial costs

The archival documents sent to the court also outline ongoing discussions between school and hospital officials about who was responsible for paying for the burial of students who died at the sanatoriums.

Lux said death was common in Indian hospitals that operated at half the cost of health care facilities for the general population.

"My study of the hospitals generally point to systemic overcrowding, underfunding, the lack of enough medical staff and in particular poorly trained medical staff that resulted in prolonged illness and even death at the hands of overworked and underpaid staff," she said. 

Cachagee said it is difficult to accept that Canada wants reconciliation with First Nations people when survivors must continue going to the courts to see their suffering acknowledged.

"How do you reconcile with an organization or a country that subjected you to an institution that tried to kill you?" he asked.