While sitting in on hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Victoria in 2012, writer Gary Geddes was moved by the testimony of Joan Morris, a Songhees woman who told of her mother’s mysterious 17-year incarceration as a patient at the Nanaimo Indian Hospital. (Songhees First Nation is located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island.) It was a place Geddes knew little about, though he had lived in the area for many years.
Haunted by the story, Geddes made contact with Morris, a former nurse’s aide turned prominent advocate for survivors of the segregated Indian hospitals that operated throughout Canada during most of the last century.
“She told me things about these hospitals that grabbed me by the throat and demanded the story be told,” says Geddes today.
With Morris’s encouragement, Geddes began a cross-country journey to record the stories of dozens of elders whose lives and health were permanently compromised by abuses they experienced at these facilities. The result is Medicine Unbundled: A Journey Through the Minefields of Indigenous Health Care (Heritage House), a book Geddes will talk about when he visits UCalgary on Wednesday March 8.
“I wanted to write a book that would not just provide the kind of first-hand evidence that would help us rewrite the national narrative,” he says, “but also celebrate the amazing spirit and resilience of the people I met who trusted me enough to share their experiences.”
Roy Little Chief of the Siksika First Nation has also been invited to share his perspective on the issue.