Editor’s Note: Material in the story below may be disturbing to some readers.
As some Indigenous survivors of so-called Indian hospitals gear up for class action lawsuits, others like Paul Aliktiluk are being flooded with memories of abuse.
“I don’t care about the money,” he said. “I just want people to know what happened to us.”
Aliktiluk’s voice trembled with emotion as he told his story to APTN Investigates for the first time outside of his immediate family.
“What I remember is that there were a bunch of us over there. I remember their faces,” he said. “I was just little, four or five years old.”
He recalled being given strong medication at the Ninette, Man. sanatorium where he was sent for tuberculosis treatment. He said his body wasn’t able to handle it.
“I could not hold it in my stomach,” he said.
Nurses would scold him for vomiting on the floor or the bed. They made him scoop it up and put it in a bowl of custard.
“They would mix it and they made me eat it.”
Caption: Ninette Tuberculosis Sanatorium
(source: Manitoba Archives, L.B Foote fonds)
That was far from the worst abuse experienced by the now 58-year-old.
“There were times I was taken to the washroom and they would put me in a little collar and they used to chain me in the washroom and turn off the lights,” he recalled, “Some nurses used to fondle my boyhood and stick their fingers in my rear. It hurt very much.”
Aliktiluk was among 80 Inuit sent to the Ninette, Man. sanatorium during the 1963 Eskimo Point tuberculosis outbreak. The area is now known as Arviat, Nunavut.
Caption: Map drawn by Dr. Percy E. Moore illustrating the 1963 tuberculosis outbreak at Eskimo Point
(source: Manitoba Archives)
He said he doesn’t know how long he was at Ninette but by the time he returned home, he could no longer communicate with his Inuktitut-speaking parents.
“I remember going home. I only spoke English and when I got home I couldn’t understand my parents,” he said.
He explained he tried to tell his parents what happened in his teens.
“I didn’t bring it up again while they were alive because they didn’t believe me,” he said. “I just quit talking about it.”
The memories of the abuse at Ninette haunted him through the years, leading to suicidal thoughts and angry outbursts. He eventually became a peace officer in Arviat, acting as a liaison between the RCMP and the community. After he married in his early 20s, he finally told his wife what had happened.
“She just hugged me for a long time.” he said. “That lifted me up, I felt a little better.”
Survivors coming forward
Dozens of survivors and their families came forward with stories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse after a series of stories about Indian hospitals and sanatoriums on APTN National News and APTN Investigates.
A $1.1-billion class action lawsuit was filed earlier this year with others in development.
Aliktiluk said he is encouraged by the attention and hopes it will lead to healing for survivors like him.
“You can’t keep it bottled up inside, It has to come out,” he said. “I want people to know the truth of what happened to us.”