What’s Buried Next Door to Vancouver Island University?

Crimes against Humanity in our own Backyard are Finally Surfacing

I was held in the Nanaimo Indian Hospital when I was a child, for seven years. I was used like a guinea pig in experiments. Lots of Indian kids died in there.

- Joan Morris, Songhees Nation, at a lecture at Malaspina College (VIU) in the spring of 2004

Just south of the VIU campus stands an overgrown piece of land behind stern barbed wire fencing: the site of the former Nanaimo Indian Hospital, run by the United Church of Canada and the federal government for over a half century.

According to Joan Morris and other Indians, this ground holds the remains of children who were killed after grisly medical experiments were conducted there for decades by military doctors.

This past week, Joan Morris’ testimony is helping to place Nanaimo in the news at international human rights forums in Europe.

Last Monday, the first evidence of crimes of genocide against native people in Canada went online , thanks to a Common Law court set up by lawyers and human rights activists in Belgium, Ireland and seven other nations. And in the docket of that court are testimonies of survivors of the infamous Nanaimo Indian Hospital (NIH), adjacent to the VIU campus.

I first met Joan Morris in the fall of 2003 and at her request, helped arrange a public forum on campus where she told her story to a small, shocked audience.

“My mother and I were both imprisoned in the Hospital in the 1960′s” she described.

“They gave me these horrible tasting drinks that made me sick. My cousin Nancy Joe had them too and she died later of cancer when she was only twenty two. I can’t remember a lot of things, but when I was older, when I went to a doctor in Victoria, he told me all the bones in my feet had been broken, and my uterus had been damaged. I know a lot of other Indians kids in there never survived. They were hauling out little bodies on that metal gurney practically every morning”

Documents held at Indian Affairs archives confirm that the Nanaimo Indian Hospital was funded jointly by the United Church of Canada, whose missionary doctors brought children to the facility, and the federal Department of Health. It officially closed in the mid 1970′s and has been a “training facility” for the Canadian military since the 1980′s.

Although some of the original buildings of the NIH were still standing when Joan Morris gave her talk at the former Malaspina College in 2004, within a few months of Joan’s talks, those buildings were bulldozed and destroyed.

And since, in the fall of 1999, Ottawa “officially sealed” all records of Indian hospitals across Canada held at its National Archives, a cover up of what went on at NIH seems to be in effect.

Esther Morris, a distant relative of Joan, was sterilized in her teenage years and had bones and a kidney removed when she was incarceretd at NIH during the 1960′s.

“The government came to my mom when I was five and told her I had tuberculosis, which was nonsense. I never had it. But they took me away and I was at the hospital for years. I lost track of time. I was strapped down in a weird device so I could never lie back or stand up, just held like that for months. I lost the use of my legs. These doctors kept studying me and giving me shots that made me sick. Later, I learned I couldn’t have children”

Nanaimo wasn’t the only place where such horrors were inflicted on local Indians.

Sarah Modeste of the Cowichan Nation was sterilized at the King’s Daughters Clinic in Duncan, BC in the early 1950′s by Dr. James Goodbrand. As Sarah describes on the online Common Law Court proceedings (itccs.org, November 5),

“Dr. Goodbrand said to me, ‘If you marry Freddy, I’ll have to do an operation on you’ … But Goodbrand delivered my first baby and afterwards I was all bruised and hurting inside. Later I learned I’d been sterilized … Goodbrand told me he was being paid $300 by the government for every Indian woman he sterilized”

Involuntary sterilizations and medical experiments are outlawed under international law, and are defined as crimes against humanity. Yet Canada and its churches have never been thus charged before any tribunal; and not a single person has ever been brought to trial in Canada for these crimes, or for the death of a child in these facilities and residential schools, where half the children never returned.

In the words of Joan Morris,

“All those little kids on the gurney are buried on the grounds of the hospital. My cousin Nanacy said she saw them being put in the ground, in the foliage up towards the mountains. I wish they’d be given a final rest”

Joan’s story has recently been removed from You Tube, without explanation.

As much as Canada has ignored and covered up its legacy of genocide, the world is not ignoring it any longer. The International Common Law Court of Justice, based in Brussels, has issued a Public Summons to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the heads of the United, Catholic and Anglican churches to answer these charges. So far, none of them have replied.

Nevertheless, the Court’s Prosecutor’s Office has commenced its case against Canada, which can be followed online at itccs.org .

If Canada and its churches are found guilty for crimes against humanity, Canadians are obliged under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to not pay their taxes, lest they be found guilty of colluding in criminal actions.

The lost children of the Nanaimo Indian Hospital may receive justice yet.