A holistic health approach… Understanding the impact of colonization and residential school on the First Peoples
“I bring physicians back to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action,” says Nicole. “One of the Calls to Action (Health - #18 to #24) is for our medical system and practitioners to be aware of Aboriginal issues and that includes health.
“I would like to see more physicians becoming more knowledgeable about Indigenous people and their communities,” she adds. “Developing that knowledge comes from studying and making a concerted effort to learn, but it also comes from talking with your Indigenous patients, asking thoughtful questions and again, knowing where they come from.
“If you don’t know that we don’t have access to physiotherapy, or that we don’t have a lab here, or that the medication you prescribe isn’t covered by the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, then you’re left wondering, ‘Why isn’t my patient following through?’ This knowledge is critical to ensuring follow-up", she adds.
Former Saddle Lake Cree Nation Chief and Band Councillor, Eric Large, speaks to the effect the residential school experience can have on Indigenous people’s ability to trust and be open with non-Indigenous people, particularly those in positions of authority.
Eric resided at and attended Blue Quills Indian Residential School, just west of St. Paul, from grades 1 to 8 (1953-61). He continued to live at the school for the duration of grades 9 to 12 (1961-65) while commuting daily by bus to Racette School in St. Paul. Eric was seven when he arrived at Blue Quills, where he quickly learned that life there would be one of strict routine, constant prayer, unhealthy food and loneliness.
“It was very heartbreaking to go live there,” he recalls. “But we kind of got used to it, to the routine … up at 6:30 a.m., going to church on Sundays. Going to the classrooms from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Going to meals … doing lots of praying – in the mornings, at mealtimes, after meals, at bedtimes.”
Family was never far from Eric’s mind; the absence of his immediate and extended family was painful. “We missed our parents, our grandparents, our aunties and uncles and relatives on the reservation.”
Eric’s older sister also attended Blue Quills but he only recalls “seeing her twice.” Boys and girls were kept separate, he explains, except in the classroom. If you had an older or younger sibling, you maybe saw each other at mealtimes, and even then, you were not allowed to speak to each other.
Along with the routines and prayers came constant oversight and control.
“Me and my fellow students were totally under the control of school administration, the male and female clergy,” says Eric. “We learned to keep quiet at school and in church. Only in the playground could we express ourselves. We got used to this supervision and constantly being watched.”
And while they became accustomed to the regimented supervision, Eric notes that in the long term, it led to: “a state of hyper-vigilance in later life. I saw it in myself and others.” After he graduated, Eric says he was: “wary of authority figures, like clergy, the divinity, government agents, bureaucrats, lawyers, judges, police … But not so much the medical community. I trust them – they’re trying to help us recover.” He added: “It’s the legal and political authorities that are more difficult to trust.”