The Scientist spoke with Evan Adams, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Indigenous Services Canada and a member of the Coast Salish tribe in the Tla’amin First Nation in British Columbia whose parents attended residential schools, about how the experience of residential schools continues to shadow Indigenous communities in Canada, and what changes he would like to see in the healthcare system to better address Indigenous health inequities.
In one of the recent reviews, the authors noted that many of the studies assessing First Nations or Indigenous health and residential schools have really been more recent, maybe in the last 20 years. I was curious if it’s been your experience that [researchers] are now focusing more on the longstanding health impacts?
EA: I think it’s definitely easier to look at the modern consequences of the residential schools. But I really would like to look deeper than that. I’m in my 50s, and I’ve been looking at survivors of residential schools literally all my life. The finding of unmarked graves in residential schools tells us that . . . those children deserved better and it didn’t happen for them and they died. And if you listen to any survivor from residential schools, they will tell you that they were severely abused. You can listen to any of the 6,000 testimonials of those children that exist in the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.
For most of us, we don’t have the capacity to hold that reality. This child abuse that’s happened in generation after generation is very unique. For most people, trauma is a single event . . . but the repeated trauma of individuals generation after generation is kind of unprecedented. So what are the deep psychic effects? What are the physiologic aspects? What does that do to the spirit of a nation to be subjugated? I think research can go bigger than just: What are the incidence rates of this particular disease in this small population in this small time period?