University of Winnipeg, Lung Association looking for TB patients from the past

A new project was launched this week in Winnipeg that is trying to identify patients who had tuberculosis (TB) and were sent to hospitals in Manitoba and the doctors who treated them.

For decades Indigenous people living with tuberculosis were sent to so-called Indian hospitals or sanatoriums across Canada.

Many children there faced the similar abuse experienced in residential schools.

The Manitoba Indigenous Tuberculosis Photo Project is a collaboration between the University of Winnipeg and the Manitoba Lung Association, formerly known as the Sanatorium Board of Manitoba.

The team is tasked with identifying patients and doctors from a series of approximately 150 photos donated by the Manitoba Lung Association.

“Our number one goal is to share the photos back to patients and back to communities,” said Erin Millions, a post-doctoral fellow at the U of W and one of the leads on the project.

“A lot of academic research projects aren’t designed to put the needs of the communities first and our goal is to respond to community requests and give those photos back.”

Don Courchene’s older brother Leonard was sent to a hospital for TB.

Now he’s flipping through a photobook filled with unidentified toddlers in cribs and children in matching pajamas with the hope of finding him.

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Courchene remembers the day Leonard was taken from their family home is Sagkeeng First Nation.

It happened in the early 60s when Courchene was a young child.

“One day you’re living together and then the next day he’s gone and we don’t know where he’s gone,” said Courchene.

Leonard was in his early teens when he was sent to a sanatorium in Manitoba.

It would be years before Leonard returned home.

“It’s a lost feeling like where are they gone? You don’t see them anymore,” said Courchene.

Courchene took some time to scan the photos while on a short break.

While he didn’t find his brother, he said he would be back to finish viewing the rest of the photos.

The project set up a booth a block away from the second National Elders Gathering in Winnipeg with hopes of reaching a wide audience.

The project was originally supposed to be a social media campaign but Millions said this changed with direction from the university’s Indigenous Advisory Council.

“Indigenous ex-patients, their families, their descendants and communities are sort of clamouring for this sort of engagement with them about these histories of Indigenous health history,” she said.

A class action lawsuit was launched by survivors against the federal government in 2018.

Millions said hearing some of the stories from survivors has been ‘heartbreaking.’

“These are kids who were sent away for medical treatment. We know that in the hospitals and sanatoriums, as in residential schools, it was underfunded, it was underpaid, patients received sub par treatment. There was abuse,” she said.

Millions hopes to take the photos to other communities in Manitoba.

In the meantime, the group will be posting photos on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

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