“Our hearts were heavy,” said Andrea Jenkins and Lorelei Morin Mullings, explaining why they decided to take a stand last week at the former site of Charles Camsell Hospital in northwest Edmonton.
The two close friends spoke on June 25. It was a day after the news of the location of the remains in 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Cowessess First Nation Residential School. That week alone, the Government of Alberta announced $ 8 million for work to locate burial sites on residential school grounds in the province.
The women had heard stories from their elders and others who had been to the hospital about graves dug on Camsell grounds when it served as an Indian hospital. They were told about bodies being burnt in the incinerator in the basement and they wanted people to know about it.
Jenkins, Métis / Dene from the Northwest Territories, and Mullings, from the Cree Nation of Enoch, therefore decided to make their voices heard and raise awareness by standing on the site, which is currently set up for residences. multi-family.
Their occupation was only supposed to last on the evening of June 25, but when 18 or 19 people joined them on the first day, it then grew to 35 people, including the Grand Chief of Treaty 8 Arthur Noskey, who stopped by days later with food and water, Mullings said they decided to extend their evenings until July 1.
Mullings says she will be celebrating Canada Day with an orange shirt on the Camsell site.
Jenkins and Mullings want people to know the sordid history of the Camsell.
“It’s just mind-blowing to me that so many people to this day have no idea what happened there,” Jenkins said.
The site in the Inglewood district first housed a Jesuit college before being leased to the US military. Soon after, the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp took it over as a military hospital for veterans.
It became the Indian Hospital in 1945 and operated as such until 1979. It served primarily as a tuberculosis sanatorium, bringing in indigenous patients from the western provinces, the western arctic and the subarctic.
In Dr Samir Shaheen-Hussain’s A Hand to Hold, Shaheen-Hussain recounts incidents and treatments that allegedly occurred at Camsell: the children’s legs were cast to force them to stay in their beds; new anti-tuberculosis treatments have been tested in patients; children have been sexually abused and assaulted by staff; there were suspicions that indigenous peoples were experienced with medical procedures and treatment; and there was the forced sterilization of women.
In her book, Separate Beds: A History of Indian Hospitals in Canada, 1920s-1980s, Maureen Lux writes that the hospital’s dormitory-style rooms allowed cross-infection and that the University hospital and medical school from Alberta used Camsell patients as subjects. for studies. The patients were not in a social position to formally question their medical treatment.
“I know there are spirits out there. I know they want to be free, ”Mullings said. “We all feel it. ”
All of this, Jenkins and Mullings say, is why the Camsell site should be left alone. The two women signed an online petition calling for “Stop the redevelopment of Charles Camsell Hospital”.
The petition says, in part, “Charles Camsell Hospital is the site of numerous human rights violations against indigenous peoples (sic). These violations include human experimental tests on Indigenous peoples, links to residential schools, forced sterilization of Indigenous peoples, as well as the site of thousands of cases of abuse against Indigenous peoples (sic).
As of the morning of June 30, the petition, online for seven months, had 394 signatures.
Petitioner Trinity Brandon-Demeuse calls for the hospital to become a place of remembrance.
Gene Dub, architect and developer of the site, says he is not aware of the petition. He also says that since work has already started on the old hospital to turn it into condominiums, it would be dangerous for a half-built building to remain standing.
Last week, Dub hired staff to perform Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) scans of the southeastern portion of the Camsell site where no excavation work took place. The methodology for the analysis went through Dr. Kisha Supernant, director of the Institute of Grassland and Native Archeology at the University of Alberta, Dub said, and he anticipates the results later this week or so. in the middle of next week.
The scans fit well in the development of the project, which involves the conversion of the hospital into housing; 20 townhouses built to the north of the hospital and an elderly project to the south. The land to the west has been zoned for an apartment, but there are currently no plans to build this apartment.
A group of developers, of which Dub remains the original only member, purchased the land in the province in 2004.
“At that time, there was not as much interest or concern for burial sites. I think now we’re sort of shocked to find that we should investigate this matter more seriously, ”Dub said.
The decision to undertake the PRG was based both on the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the old Kamloops residential school and on the concerns expressed by Calvin Bruneau, Chief of the Papaschase Band in Edmonton.
According to Bruneau, Dub says, because there is no existing building at the southeast corner of the site that could be a burial site.
In 2016, Dub says they worked with the town archivist, who told him there was no evidence of a burial at the Camsell site.
“We rely on his opinion, but when we heard about Kamloops we thought maybe we should look beyond that opinion,” Dub said.
The southeast portion of the Camsell site is slated for a subdivision of eight single family homes and a one acre park. The park is to include “some kind of commemorative identification of people who thought the Charles Camsell had an influence in their lives,” Dub said.
“Certainly, if something was found in the way of burying, we certainly wouldn’t be building single-family homes there. We might be turning that into some kind of commemorative area…. If the various indigenous groups that might have been involved wanted to explore it further, they could dig to see if there are indeed any bones there, but we wouldn’t do anything if we found any bones, ”Dub said.
If this is a burial site, Dub does not know who would own the land then. He expects to lose the money he spent buying this package, but “that’s certainly not the biggest problem, I think.”
Dub says a five-inch bone fragment believed to have been found at the site was brought to his office about a month ago. He says it was not clear whether it was animal or human bone and whether it was old or new. He was turned over to the Edmonton Police Department for a forensic investigation. Dub says he has yet to get a response from the police
The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, released in 2015, included an entire volume on “Missing Children and Anonymous Graves”. He says the deceased Protestant patients at Charles Camsell, whose families could not afford to have the bodies shipped to their communities, were buried in the cemetery on the grounds of the Edmonton residential school.
Research undertaken by Travis Gladue-Beauregard, whose great-grandfather died at Charles Camsell in the late 1960s, also shows that burials took place in Winterburn Cemetery on Enoch Cree Nation.
Maxime Beauregard was Chief of the Cree Nation of Bigstone from 1947 to 1962. Gladue-Beauregard says he always wondered why his great-grandfather was not buried in the nation.
When he started asking questions a few years ago, he found out that Maxime had passed away at Camsell.
“That was back then, the way the government was, the way Indian Affairs was, they didn’t have a lot of roads (or) infrastructure to get the bodies home and I know that affected my family…. No one from the family, from what I understood, was actually there (when he was buried) or anyone from the nation, so I don’t even know if he even had a Christian burial or a traditional burial. I don’t know, ”Gladue-Beauregard said.
He hopes the GPR scan will be done at Winterburn Cemetery so his great-grandfather’s remains can be located.
“I think for a lot of families who haven’t brought their loved ones home, the idea is that we would just like to see some kind of recognition and also really try to put an end to it. For me and for my family, for my family’s legacy, we want to have something to go towards, ”said Gladue-Beauregard.
While Maxime’s remains can be identified, Gladue-Beauregard is uncertain whether attempts will be made to repatriate them to the Cree Nation of Bigstone.
Gladue-Beauregard is pleased that digitization work has been undertaken on the Charles Camsell site and expects work to be done on the other two sites connected to Camsell.
The fact that it took the discovery in Kamloops to get the ball rolling is “a little disheartening,” he said, but added, “These are the little stepping stones. But hey, to get there, I’m glad it’s happening now instead of 100 years from now. But should the government have listened at the time? Absolutely.”