A Comparative Historical Analysis of the Emergence and Impact of Tuberculosis among the First Nations of Western Canada, 1700 to 1940

Last Updated: February 4, 2014

Paul Hackett, PhD (Principal Investigator)

This research project is a comparative history of the emergence and varying effects of tuberculosis among the First Nations of western Canada during the period from 1700 to 1940.

Data are to be obtained through extensive archival research as well as through interviews, and the analysis will employ techniques from history, ethno-history and epidemiology. In addition to its inherent historical value, it is anticipated that this study will contribute to the adjustment of current programs designed to treat this persistent disease by providing insights into its history among specific First Nations. Despite public health efforts, tuberculosis continues to persist, and may in the near future re-emerge in epidemic form, among Canada’s Aboriginal people.

Goals / Outcomes: The research seeks to challenge current beliefs about the rise of this destructive disease in the west, and to re-examine the process by which it emerged and later declined, focusing on its varying history at the community level.

It documents the major shifts in this history of tuberculosis treatment, from the period of neglect to the period in which the disease at last came under control.

A part of the study specifically examined the threat of tuberculosis to the health of the First Nations of Manitoba from the 1880s to the 1950s. Initially, the federal government provided only minimal assistance. Eventually, the province stepped up in to carry out case-finding in selected communities regarded as a direct threat to non-Native citizens. Only a few with active disease were sent to provincial tuberculosis facilities, with treatment subsidized by Ottawa. From the 1937, the federal government began to release increasing amounts of funds for case-finding and, for the first time, established several tuberculosis treatment facilities for the use of Aboriginal people, with the result that the tuberculosis mortality rate among First Nations people began to plummet. 

Funder: Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation

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