In 2017 I was contacted about my time at the Charles Camsell Hospital. It was regarding a documentary about the hospital including some of the darker history associated with it's exclusive 'Indian Hospital' days. I felt I couldn't truly represent a time before I was even born but did have a story of my time to tell. My time included the last 3 years of the Camsell being a northern referral hospital. I chose to participate in the documentary.
Since then I have had the pleasure of getting together, on a number of occasions, with the young woman involved in spearheading this initiative. Miranda is an activist in championing awareness, fairness and due process for Aboriginal people's. I love her energy, determination and chutzpah. She has gently provided materials and sources of information to help broaden my understanding of what's at stake. That indeed is happening. In our times together though I have continued to come away questioning 'what the hell have I missed?' in terms of the abuses and substandard care that is at the bottom of a class action suit being brought to bear against the Federal Government and it's 'Indian Hospital' system. Was I naive? Willfully blind to what was happening around me?
On this I have searched my soul, horrified that I might have actively participated in something so terrible. My 2 tenures at the Charles Camsell are quite simply a highlight of my nursing career. I learned so much about a different approach to treating patients. One that moved in Kairos vs Kronos time. Was more inclusive of the patients because their reality didn't fit into nice neat boxes in a linear framework and we had to work with multiple levels of complexity in people's lives. This opened my eyes and my heart. And clearly was not the experience of those pursuing the lawsuit.
One day it dawned on me as the news reported on this lawsuit that the moniker 'Indian Hospital' did not describe the time I worked there. My stint saw all manner of patients from northern Alberta as well as the Territories and the Yukon - Whites as well as Aboriginal. We also served the Department of National Defence so had patients from Griesbach and Cold Lake airbases. My floor also treated end stage cancer patients from the city cancer hospital. My experience was a more eclectic and diverse version of that early hospital.
When I shared what I had realized with Miranda she said no it was still an 'Indian Hospital' when I worked there and the lawsuit included that time. Hmm yes people who hadn't stepped foot inside still referred to it as such. I can remember correcting people on a regular basis. Certainly Aboriginal patients who had been treated at the old Camsell returned to as it was where they were familiar. It had changed though and perhaps with that so had the care. I do know what I saw. There was not abuse or substandard care. This was not my first job. I was not naive.
So northern referral hospital or Indian (TB) hospital? In recalling my time there in no way takes away from how this place is remembered by others. Really it was both over it's history. A time of great learning and growth for me and a dark time for others. The name does make a difference. In saying this I do wish those who experienced harm at the hands of those who should have be there to respectfully care for them the best in receiving acknowledgment and restitution from that dark time.