Report says residential school deaths in Alberta linked to unpasteurized milk

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Unpasteurized milk is being blamed for the deaths of children attending the Blue Quills Indian Residential School in Alberta.

The school operated in Saddle Lake Cree Nation from 1898 until 1931.

According to a report released on Jan. 24 by the Acimowin Opaspiw Society, the milk resulted in the deaths of hundreds of children who attended the school.

“These children died in the hundreds from drinking unpasteurized, raw cow’s milk,” said Leah Redcrow, CEO of the society. “They were transmitted tuberculosis through the raw, unpasteurized cow’s milk. And they also died of many other milk-borne diseases.

“This was done recklessly at the hands of the school administrators, who are now all dead, and the department of Indian affairs did not impart safety measures for these children.”

residential school deaths
The site in Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta where a mass grave was discovered in 2004. Photo: Chris Stewart/APTN.

The report said the cows on the farm, located on school grounds, were rarely tested for disease.

Redcrow said the children got sick very quickly.

“The children required a health clearance prior to admission into the school. They were healthy. There were no health concerns with them,” she said. “How this was happening was the school had a cream separator, all the cream would be loaded into a rail cart and be shipped off for pasteurization.

“All the raw, skim milk that was filled with diseases was fed to the children.”

Redcrow said school administrators, who were not drinking the milk, were not getting sick or dying.

The report also said that a mass grave discovered by accident in 2004 has been confirmed by ground-penetrating radar.

“The mass grave was filled with children’s size skeletons, wrapped in white cloth. And we now know that the white cloth that they wrapped in, were bedsheets from the residential school,” said Redcrow.

residential school deaths
Eric Large tells his story to the media. Photo: Chris Stewart/APTN

Eric Large, a school survivor and one of the researchers of the report said he found the remains of a child while digging to bury a family member in 2017.

“I came across some bones, some small bones,” he said. “I guess I was in shock, first of all. And I kept on…and a ribcage, with both sides attached to a spine. It has hard to tell when you’re in shock. It looked kind of small. And the people around me asked me to put them to the side. And I kept on. And the next item was a skull.”

The society said it’s working with the Catholic church and is busy translating thousands of old school documents from French to help identify missing children.

Redcrow said excavation and repatriation work will be done in the future.

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