Residential school survivor remembers hunger that never went away - APTN NewsAPTN News

Residential school survivor remembers hunger that never went away


Shirley McLean
APTN National News

Emma Shorty still remembers her days at the Chooutla residential school and more specifically, the hunger that went along with it.

“There was hardly any food,” Shorty told APTN National News.

According to a study by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the severe hunger and malnutrition students faced at residential schools are still causing health issues for Indigenous peoples today including diabetes, and obesity.

Co-author Ian Mosby said previous research on malnutrition in schools, along with testimony from survivors, was the basis for the report.

“What we found was what many survivors have talked about is this unending hunger,” said Mosby.

Read the CMAJ Report here: Hunger was never absent

Shorty was born on her family trap line in 1933.

At the age of four, she was taken from her family and placed in Chooutla in Carcross, Yukon.

“The food wasn’t good and they said it was because of world war two but we could have eaten better,” said Shorty.

According to the Shorty, students often had to fend for themselves to eat.

She recalls a time when one of her dormmates made snares for gophers and rabbits.

“The first time we went to see our rabbit snares we got two,” she said. “She cleaned it all and cooked it on the wood heater during the night when we were suppose to be in bed sleeping boiled them no salt or nothing but sure tasted good.”


Mosby said hunger was common because schools were underfunded.

He estimates that the typical diet for residential school students was between 1,000 and 1,400 calories per day.

Canada’s food guide recommends a growing child should consume anywhere between 1,200 and 3,100 calories.

Mosby said the research shows that malnourished children were more likely to experience physiological and physical complications.

“Having undergone extreme deprivation which puts survivors at higher risk for conditions like Type 2 diabetes, higher risk of obesity and higher risk for other chronic diseases,” he said.

Shorty said she doesn’t have any health conditions related to residential schools.

She said if it wasn’t for people like her uncle, she wouldn’t be alive today.

“A whole moose and whatever he caught like fish he would bring them to the school so all that students there could have good food,” she said.

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3 Responses to “Residential school survivor remembers hunger that never went away”

    Kim August 16, 2017 at 11:18 pm #

    Kim Oseira
    I am a survivor of Boarding School in Alaska. The catholic nuns and the priests and the brothers were always very well fed but us kids went hungry. I would bend over holding my stomach I was so hungry…

    Les Johnson August 18, 2017 at 5:34 am #

    I watched the program APTN put on, about Choutla. Many similarities between their school and ours: St. Joseph’ Mission. Our school was located about 12 miles from Williams Lake, B.C. I think even the school building was almost the same. I watched that video about 50 times or so. Very interesting! One thing that got me was that some of the students went to Choutla but never ever saw their homes again. They either died, or their village moved. I’m sharing this with my group on Facebook: SJM Reunion Online

    Florence Large August 18, 2017 at 7:01 am #

    My mother and my husband went to the Indian Residential School. Growing up, we were not allowed to throw any food on our plate away. My husband has difficulty with how he shops and buys in large quantities. He thinks he has to eat everything he puts on his plate. We both have Type II diabetes. Ian Mosby may also want to do research on how the white foods have become comfort foods to the Indigenous people and also focus on the psychological factors. White sugar, white salt, white flour, white lard are in the foods that have become comfort foods. Bannock has all four ingredients. Now we are also dealing with psychological dependence and addiction to these substances. To deal with the obesity, diabetes and other diseases, one has to have programs to address the traumas and re-program the DNA. Another factor is low economic rates. It is cheaper to feed your family with Kraft Dinner and noodles. It is alarming to hear that children are being diagnosed with Type II diabetes.