After he published his research in 2013 exposing medical experimentation on students at residential schools involving withholding of certain foods, the invitations started coming in for Dr. Ian Mosby.
“A lot of communities wanted me to come and explain to people myself, in person,” he said, during an interview in Toronto.
Mosby heard repeatedly that former students felt vindicated by his findings.
“People have been telling these stories of experimentation, of abuse, of all sorts of things that have now been documented by historians like myself. But people could have believed what survivors were saying a long time ago, and I think we would be a lot further than we are right now,” he added.
The stories he heard about more recent events involve complaints about how survivors were treated under the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), the system created under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to compensate survivors for sexual or severe physical abuse.
“I think the sense I have speaking with survivors is that the IAP process caused a lot of harm. In the way it was set up, the ranking of damage and of harm that was done, I think a lot of people found that to be really dehumanizing,” he told APTN Investigates. “And also, the combative nature of it in which people were told that they would be believed, and then they got there and they were challenged. So I think that was a real failure on the part of Canada to not fix the process earlier on.”
There was no initiative by the government, which administered an out-of-court settlement of a class action lawsuit in which it was a defendant, to respond to new revelations about residential school abuse, he said.
“And an example is, the survivors of the nutrition experiments. They did not get additional compensation. That was not one of the harms listed,” he said. “Harms that are still not recognized under the IAP agreement that I think in the spirit of reconciliation, perhaps Canada needs to be open to re-examining that and providing answers.”
He believes Canadians, including government officials, need to accept the fact that horrible things happened in their country.
“My father was born in Port Alberni. My family lived there at the time when the nutrition experiments were taking place at the Alberni residential school. Some of the members of my family, not my parents, but the response was, ’They wouldn’t have done that in the school,’ or ‘I knew people who worked there, they were good people.’ There’s sort of a disbelief, I think,” he said. “And you know, we have Senator Lynn Beyak basically saying what I think a lot of Canadians still believe. Which is, the intentions were good, there were bad apples, but overall the schools were somehow good intentioned. Which, all evidence points to the exact opposite. Which is, in fact, the schools were genocidal in intent.”
There’s a very real chance that denial has had an ongoing negative affect on the health of First Nations’ people, he believes.
“I have heard many survivors talk about not being believed when they approach medical professionals, physicians, nurses. And I think this is a pretty common story across the country, is people not being believed when they say that they have medical conditions,” he said.
The evidence of the medical experimentation emerged after the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was finalized. And revelations in a recently published book, Medicine Unbundled: A Journey through the Minefields of Indigenous Health Care, by British Columbia based writer Gary Geddes, has led Mosby to believe there should be a public inquiry into the segregated Indian hospitals and their relationship with residential schools.
“I think a public inquiry into the history of healthcare in Indigenous communities, and particularly the history of racially segregated Indian hospitals,” Mosby said. “The most important reason why, is a lot of survivors of residential schools spent years in these institutions, in these hospitals. In fact, have been lobbying, and suing the government to be included, to have those years including in their residential school settlement agreement. And as I think historians like Maureen Lux have shown, the barrier between school and hospital was fluid.”
“Children were being sent one place to the other with little knowledge or input of their parents,” he added. “And because the hospitals have been separated off through the settlement agreement, we’re missing a huge part of that story.”
Evidence is emerging that poor nutrition in the schools had life-long, even inter-generational effects, he said.
“Being malnourished, not having sufficient calories during childhood between the ages of four and 16, for instance, dramatically increases your susceptibility to type two diabetes, to obesity, to heart disease, to a number of conditions that disproportionately affect Indigenous people in Canada,” he said. “And so, we begin to see the ways in which the nutritional conditions in these schools continued to affect people well after they left the schools. And it’s not only that, but people were not only poorly fed, but food was often used as a system of reward and punishment. People have trauma associated with food that continued on in their lives. People didn’t learn about traditional foods. People didn’t learn how to properly prepare, harvest, and eat the foods of their own culture. And instead, in residential schools, children were given not only substandard, often rotten food, but food that really, going forward, was a terrible model,” Mosby said.
The historian says the evidence shows the current poor health outcomes for Aboriginal peoples began with poor nutrition in the schools.
“There was a recent study published just a few months ago that showed in fact that students in Saskatchewan were healthy going into residential schools. In fact, they were just as healthy as non-Indigenous kids. And that in residential schools, their diets took a significant downturn. And this has had huge consequences that I think are often not acknowledged,” he said. “And the fact that many of our healthcare interventions into Indigenous communities around issues like Type 2 diabetes don’t acknowledge the sort of both direct effects of malnutrition at residential schools, but also the intergenerational effects that they’ve had on communities. And so part of this is an unwillingness to acknowledge the legacy of Canada’s colonial policies.”
Mosby believes Canada has an obligation to make amends for the policies that drove the residential schools and segregated hospitals.
“In the spirit of the TRC calls to action, cost shouldn’t be the determining factor. The determining factor should be the truth and achieving those calls to action. And so, understanding for instance, what happened at Indian hospitals–this is about fundamental justice for the survivors of those hospitals, many of whom were children who were taken from residential schools, put into hospitals, then put back into residential schools. If we want to work within the spirit of reconciliation, I think the basic of finding the truth of that through something like an inquiry, it’s the least we can do,” he said.