New research tool to help find missing Indigenous tuberculosis patients in Manitoba

The University of Winnipeg is using an online tool that will help identify unnamed tuberculosis patients who are featured in historical photos.

The Manitoba Indigenous Tuberculosis History Project (MITHP) was created in 2019 to identify unnamed Indigenous TB patients in photos donated by the Manitoba Lung Association.

For decades, Indigenous Peoples and children from Manitoba were sent to a handful of so-called Indian hospitals or sanatoriums in the province for treatment.

In most cases, it was to treat tuberculosis (TB), but in many cases, those people and children at these hospitals experienced abuse and experimentation.

“In a lot of cases there is a wish to skip to reconciliation ahead of truth, it’s truth and reconciliation, not just truth. And so our project is part of that truth-telling,” said Erin Millions, research director for MITHP.

Originally designed as a social media campaign, the project has expanded and is now developing a new research guide to help families locate missing loved ones that never came home.

“This is something that’s critical to truth and reconciliation and really healing around missing people from communities,” said Millions.

A searchable database of historical photos and resources for researching Indigenous TB history will be part of the guide being led by Anne Lindsay.

“What we’re looking at is trying to find a number of ways that communities can find their own stories about the histories and record their own stories.

“So there’s going to be an oral history project coming up, there’s, other research in the past and the this project as well to try and help people be able to find their own information about what’s happened to family members,” said Lindsay, who is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Winnipeg.

Lindsay previously worked for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and has spent years helping families research connections to residential and Indian hospital schools.

Simplifying the process of looking for a missing loved one is her goal.

“What we want to put together is a website that not only just has sort of links and ideas of places to ask but a process of you know go here first and this is the kind of information that you need to go to this next step and also just to present it in a way that is useful and understandable for the people who are going to want to use this kind of research knowledge,” she said.

Millions said as a researcher and historians, there is more work to be done for truth and reconciliation.

“I always acknowledge that the harm and the historical discipline has done to Indigenous communities first by writing the histories that have excluded Indigenous peoples from the narrative of the history of Canada for so long and then the ways the impact of those histories have played out in Canada and Indigenous communities so as a historian, and as historians in Canada we have work to do to repair the harm that we’ve done in the past,” she said.

Lindsay hopes the project and the new research guide can give even more people the tools to search for their missing loved ones.

“Well we’re hoping the primary thing is that it will empower people to find the information that they’re looking for, and perhaps even, you know discover other people who they are in their family or that they know that they will connect with through this kind of work but ideally it will be sort of iterate and it will build on itself in terms of a growing knowledge base,” said Lindsay.

The website will launch in January 2022 and the team is working on an oral history project with former hospital patients to be used as an educational tool as well as a travelling exhibit with photos.

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