N.W.T. filmmaker to shine light on historical abuse at former Edmonton segregated hospital

Raymond Yakeleya has received $8,500 from the Heritage Council of Edmonton to explore the experiences of the former hospital's patients.

Raymond Yakeleya doing research for documentary about Charles Camsell Indian Hospital

A teacher with students during the 1960s at the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton, Alta., one of 29 facilities named in a class-action lawsuit. (Alberta Provincial Archives)

Sonny MacDonald was 10 years old when he was sent to Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in 1949.

The 78-year-old, originally from Fort Chipewyan, Alta. was a patient at the Edmonton-based hospital for more than two years after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

MacDonald, now a resident of Hay River, N.W.T. plans to talk about his experience in a new documentary about the hospital. It's being produced by Dene filmmaker Raymond Yakeleya.

Yakeleya is originally from Tulita, N.W.T., but now lives in Edmonton.

He says many Northern residents were sent to the hospital for treatment, and he wants to tell their stories.

"In this documentary I need the help of our people," he said.

Yakeleya says many residents of his home community were sent to the hospital. Some never returned.

He's received $8,500 from the Heritage Council of Edmonton to do research for the film.

Abuse and mistreatment

During his stay, MacDonald says doctors removed his right lung, two and a half ribs, and put a metal plate in his back — all without his consent.

"I can't recall anyone explaining to me what they'd done," he told CBC News.

"All I know is I woke up in the recovery area, and my back, just under my shoulder on the right side where they removed the lung, was quite sore."

MacDonald says he was kept in a very small room, so he would walk around the hospital ward to visit other patients, something he says doctors didn't like.

"They got tired of that, seeing me walk around, so they removed my pajama bottoms so I couldn't walk around," he said.

But that didn't stop him. MacDonald continued to walk around the hospital ward, naked from the waist down. This, he said, provoked doctors to put his legs in casts, despite nothing being wrong with them.

MacDonald says he was kept in the casts for more than a year.

He further alleges that he was sexually abused by an intern multiple times.

"I remember those [assaults] happening to me so very well," he said.

"I lived with that for many, many years."

Sonny MacDonald says he received medical treatment without his consent and was abused while at Charles Camsell Indian Hospital for tuberculosis treatment as a 10-year-old. (Submitted by Sonny MacDonald)

$1.1B lawsuit

Louise Beaulieu is also a former patient of the hospital.

The 64-year-old from Yellowknife was taken to Charles Camsell in 1969, also for tuberculosis, when she was 16.

Like MacDonald, she says her treatment was never explained to her.

"All I know [is] I was there for TB, a touch of TB they call it," she said.

Beaulieu says she was given needles and pills daily, and while she assumes they were to treat her, no one ever explained to her what she was taking.

Louise Beaulieu is also a former patient at Charles Camsell Indian Hospital. She is part of a $1.1 billion class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of former patients of Indian hospitals across Canada. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC )

Beaulieu stayed at the hospital for nine months. She says she and a friend tried to run away many times, but were caught and locked up for two weeks after each escape attempt.  

"I ran away because I felt like I was in prison," she explained, adding she felt isolated from her family.

Her brothers were able to visit on two occasions, but she was not able to contact her parents in Yellowknife.

Beaulieu is part of a $1.1 billion class-action lawsuit filed by former patients of 29 government-run "Indian hospitals" — including Charles Camsell Indian Hospital — who say they were mistreated while in care.

"[I hope] people will realize that we've been mistreated," she said.

"I just want to let people know what happened to us so it doesn't happen again."