British Columbia

B.C. author tells the horrific story of so-called 'Indian hospitals'

B.C. author Gary Geddes spent four years travelling across Canada speaking with Indigenous elders about what they call abhorrent experiences in racist hospitals.

Gary Geddes says Canadian medical history riddled with monstrous experiences for Indigenous peoples

A residential school survivor applauds during a Truth and Reconciliation Commission gathering in Victoria. It was at a TRC hearing that Geddes was inspired to write his new book. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

As Canadians face the dark legacy of residential schools, one author is telling the story of the abuse Indigenous peoples endured in so-called "Indian hospitals" that were operational until the 1970s.

B.C. author Gary Geddes said the often government-run institutions were the sites of medical experimentation and cruel treatment.

"Different drugs were tried and the kids were used as guinea pigs for medical training," he said.

The patient's stories are the focus of Geddes new book, Medicine Unbundled: A Journey through the Minefields of Indigenous Health Care.

Geddes has made his career as a humanist poet and investigative author. His acclaimed written work includes exploring the atrocities committed throughout African history.

Seeing parallels between prejudice in Africa and the racism faced by Indigenous peoples, Geddes turned his attention to Canada for his latest book.

Speaking on The Early Edition with guest host Stephen Quinn, Geddes said he was prompted to write the book when he met Songhees elder Joan Morris at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Victoria, B.C.

"She told me the story of her mother who was taken at age 18 to the Nanaimo Indian Hospital in apparent good health and not released until she was 35," recollected Geddes.

"This was the thing that took me by the throat and demanded its story to be told."

The stories of elders

Geddes spent four years travelling across the country speaking with elders who were willing to share their experiences of monstrous practices being carried out at the hospitals.

The elders told Geddes that like residential schools, the "Indian hospitals" often led to long lasting trauma.

He said many of the medical records of the ordeals were lost and Geddes asserts many of them were purposefully destroyed.

Geddes said many of the elders interviewed told stories of forced sterilization and gratuitous drug and surgical experiments. He said he even heard the story of electric shock treatment being used to destroy the short-term memory of sexual abuse.

Ongoing prejudice

Despite the hospitals not being operational for the past 40 years, Geddes said Indigenous Canadians still face prejudice when seeking medical treatment.

Interviewees, including Morris, shared with Geddes the racist experiences they've had when dealing with medical practitioners.

Geddes feels so-called Indian Hospitals are the "missing chapter" in the Canadian book of failures surrounding Indigenous peoples. (Ann Eriksson)

"She went in for an internal exam, and it was painful, so she complained to the doctor, and he said 'you Indian women like it rough,'" said Geddes, sharing Morris's story.

Geddes said many of the illnesses experienced by children in residential schools led to them being interned in the neglectful hospitals.

He feels time spent in the hospitals should be included in the compensation process the government has put in place for those affected by residential schools.

Geddes is speaking March 14 at Simon Fraser University about his research.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Gary Geddes shares the story of so-called Indian Hospitals