Indigenous families and former patients request records from “Indian Hospitals” in Canada – National |  PKBNEWS
Indigenous families and former patients request records from “Indian Hospitals” in Canada – National | PKBNEWS

Indigenous families and former patients request records from “Indian Hospitals” in Canada – National | PKBNEWS

Georgina Martin says she is still searching for answers about her mother’s treatment.

Martin was born at the Coqualeetza Indian Hospital in British Columbia after her mother was confined there with tuberculosis. Martin grew up with his grandparents in the province’s Williams Lake First Nation, or T’Exelc, while his mother remained hospitalized.

The Vancouver Island University Indigenous/xwulmuxw professor and professor says she doesn’t have a full picture of her background, although she has repeatedly asked for records.

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“My birth in an Indian hospital was my first experience of trauma, which was then compounded by being raised without a mother nearby,” Martin wrote in a forthcoming memoir.

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“There is no information in the limited literature available regarding the effects of these hospitals on Secwepemc in my community,” wrote Martin, whose research focuses on intergenerational trauma related to residential schools and the health care system.

“What I do know is that I was born there. I made some efforts to get my birth certificates; so far i haven’t been able to find where i can find them or if they even exist.

The federal government established “Indian hospitals” across Canada beginning in the 1930s and greatly expanded them after World War II. These were originally created to treat indigenous people who contracted or were suspected of contracting tuberculosis.

They then became separate hospitals for indigenous peoples that treated all kinds of ailments, including pregnancy, burns and broken bones. All closed or merged with the mainstream healthcare system in 1981 after concerns were raised about how patients, including children, were forcibly confined and treated within their walls.

Some patients who died in hospitals were buried in unmarked graves because the government often refused to pay the cost of repatriating their bodies to their families.

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Now communities are looking for answers.

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The Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations has indicated it would be open to opening records related to former “Indian hospitals” as part of any response to a $1.1 billion class action lawsuit filed in 2018 on behalf of Indigenous peoples. who received treatment. in these establishments.

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A Federal Court judge certified the class action in January 2020.

“Survivors tell stories of sexual violence, physical abuse, forced confinement, including being tied to a hospital bed for long periods of time, being cut off from their families, undergoing surgery without anesthesia,” said Adam Tanel, a lawyer in Toronto. based in Koskie Minsky, one of the two law firms involved in the lawsuit.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

“First Nations peoples deserve an efficient and reliable method of accessing their own historical records, both individually and at the community level,” Tanel said.

Kyle Fournier, a spokesman for the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said Ottawa is “working with the parties to a meaningful resolution” of the class action lawsuit. Fournier suggested the federal government would be willing to provide access to the much-sought-after records.

“Making records available to former patients and their families will be considered as part of any settlement discussions,” Fournier said.

“Research to collect relevant documents from various archives is ongoing.”

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Academics who had limited access to the records through freedom of information requests say many Indigenous TB patients received outdated treatment for the disease compared to the non-Indigenous population.

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Laurie Meijer Drees, who is also a member of the Faculty of Indigenous Studies/xwulmuxw at Vancouver Island University, recorded testimonies of Indigenous people who were treated at these facilities for her 2013 book, Healing Histories: Stories from Indian Hospitals from Canada”.

She said the collective understanding of how patients were treated there is incomplete.

“Oral histories are useful, but institutional policy documents would reveal administrative guidelines,” she said.

The documents she found through her research suggest a cavalier attitude towards consent for parents of children with TB.

“I don’t think parental consent should be over the top for open TB cases. This should be taken for granted,” said a March 1946 memo seen by Meier Drees that the National Department of Health and Welfare sent to officials of what was then the Department of Indian Affairs.

In 1953, an amendment to the Indian Act meant that subjugated people could be prosecuted if they refused to go to hospital or follow a doctor’s orders.

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Maureen Lux, who teaches the history of Indigenous government relations and the social history of medicine at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, also wants the works made available.

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“I’ve been trying to get all the records from Indian hospitals for 10 years,” Lux said.

“Lately it’s been really hard to get anything.”

Lux wrote a book on the subject in 2016, “Separate Beds: A History of Indian Hospitals in Canada, 1920s-1980s,” in which he shares the story of a boy who ended up at the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton. after being sent alone from his Arctic home.

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She said none of the staff at the facility could pronounce his name so it was called ‘Harry Hospital’. There he spent most of his childhood and then was sent by train to Ottawa without being able to say goodbye.

Lux said many families still don’t know where loved ones who died in hospitals are buried.

“It’s important for hospitals to open their records, especially for families, so they can find their loved ones,” she said.

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In 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized in Iqaluit for the federal government’s mid-century tuberculosis policy, which included separating thousands of Inuit from their families and sending them to institutions for treatment. from southern Canada. Many never returned.

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As part of the apology, the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations created the Nanilavut Initiative, a database to help families access information about Inuit who were sent south for tuberculosis treatment between the 1940s and 1960s, including where they were bury

Claudette Commanda, a Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg elder from western Quebec who will become chancellor of the University of Ottawa in November, said several of her family members were sent to “Indian hospitals” — some for years.

“In my father’s case, he was sent to one of those Indian hospitals. I was about 13, he had been there for at least a year or two,” she said. “My husband, his mother was admitted to an Indian hospital. They took out his lung.

She said people in her community have returned with scars from operations they were not properly informed about.

“There is no reconciliation without truth,” she said. “They need to open these documents.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press