Kirby Hill, a local Indigenous man, offered me information in our interview that I was not aware of, until he said so, on the affects of the nutritional experiments, the hunger and starvation that Indian children were subjected to in the mandatory residential schools and how the past affects the reality of the present moment.
As a nurse, we studied that certain cultures and races had higher incident of disease such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or alcoholism. But until a few weeks ago, when Kirby educated me, I had not considered the “why.”
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Shockingly, Type 2 diabetes in Indigenous people is as high as 80 per cent, significantly higher than other populations.
Many survivors of the residential schools describe the “mush” they ate, occasionally being fed some wieners or baloney, and if lucky a half a piece of fruit from time to time. Most were hungry a lot of the time.
A University of Toronto study published in 2017 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that malnutrition and severe hunger in residential schools has contributed to elevated risk of obesity and diabetes in the Indigenous community, even among younger generations.
While moderately active children between four and 18 years old require 1,400 to 3,200 calories per day, the average daily calorie intake of a residential school student was usually 1,000 to 1,450 calories, according to estimates based on survivor’s testimony, revealed in this study.
With more and more revealing graves, it is also clear trauma was a part of the Indigenous child’s life while forced to attend these schools run by government and churches.
“‘You better behave. Don’t get out of line, because there’s a graveyard and there’s also the river.’ Those were warnings that were given to us as little, tiny children – five, six years old,” said Barbara McNab-Larson of her time at the Kamloops school, the residential school where 215 remains of children were recently found on the school property.
“I don’t think you really grasp it at the time, but when your friends disappear and they don’t come back, even as a child, you know something’s wrong.”
So, what are the affects of trauma on a child?
We know trauma changes people. Unable to cope with the memories and PTSD of such experiences, it can cause depression, severe anxiety, disassociation, and left with uncontrollable thoughts about the events experienced. This can last for months or even years, interfering with ability to cope with life and function day to day.
Studies have shown the effects of colonization are apparent in all aspects of Indigenous peoples’ health and well-being, affecting not only their physical health, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. The mental turmoil faced by the survivors, not only from the abuse, but when trying to adjust back into the Aboriginal culture led many to turn to unhealthy forms of coping, anger, shame, misplacement, and self-medicating.
Through the negative conditioning, many imitate the abuse, hate and neglect they learned in the residential schools. A form of ripple effect on the rest of Aboriginal culture has introduced alcohol addictions into the youth and the legacy of alcoholism is in light of the overall dislocation and disruption.
Kirby Hill, who’s parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents attended Indian Residential Schools in Brantford, Ont. has seen all the trauma affects. He describes his mother, a kind and good woman, having a different personality when disciplining small children or animals, and his father was kind, until he wasn’t, and then he really wasn’t. Kirby says he has been “picked on, bought, sold, beaten, raped, jailed and nothing short of being killed,” since he was a child. He learned how to fight very young.
Hill now tries mindfully to see the positive of life and takes a moment of hesitation to see life from a different perspective and understand more about life.
I asked Kirby, what he would want for us to understand more, what would it be?
He thought quietly for a moment, and then with tears in his eyes he replied, “Understand that we are people. Understand that we did nothing wrong. Understand that we didn’t deserve this. Understand the truth of our history.”