Hunger a common residential school experience

February 26, 2018

When survivors shared their residential school experiences with Dr. Ian Mosby, a common thread emerged – hunger.

Dr. Ian Mosby will be speaking in Saskatoon on how residential school survivors are experiencing health issues as a result of nutrition experiments at the schools.
Dr. Ian Mosby will be speaking in Saskatoon on how residential school survivors are experiencing health issues as a result of nutrition experiments at the schools.

On Feb. 26 and Feb. 27, Dr. Mosby will be speaking Saskatoon as part of the Conversations for Health Equity series.

The talks, entitled “We Were Always Hungry,” focuses on how residential school diets shaped current patterns of diabetes among Indigenous peoples in Canada.

As a historian, Dr. Mosby’s area of research largely focuses on food and nutrition in Canada. Through his research, he uncovered nutrition experiments that were conducted on nearly 1000 children in six residential schools across the country as well as in a number of Cree First Nations in northern Manitoba.

Dr. Mosby listened and met with residential school survivors to look at the impact of food and nutrition policy on Indigenous people in Canada. 

“Many survivors asked me: what were the long term impacts of the hunger and malnutrition I experienced in residential schools? If felt that it was the least I could do to try to find some answers,” Mosby said.

In collaboration with colleague Tracy Galloway, who is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, they discovered a preliminary answer to those questions.

In residential schools, relationships between food and cultural traditions were destroyed; food was used as a reward and as a punishment. More importantly, hunger and malnutrition were widespread.

The health impacts of these experiences were profound -- resulting in high rates of Type II Diabetes, obesity, and heart disease in former students who experienced hunger and malnutrition as children at residential school.

While there is a great deal of medical literature on Type II Diabetes among Indigenous people, Mosby found that, in the available literature, there’s little discussion residential schools or colonialism as a contributing factor to these health issues.  

During his talk at the University of Saskatchewan on Feb. 27, Mosby plans to explore more technical aspects of the studies on nutrition experiments for health students and professionals in attendance.

Health care providers – including nurses, dietitians – must take into account if patients did experience hunger in childhood, and consider those factors in assessing a patient’s health.

Many survivors are blamed for those conditions, Mosby said. A person’s health can sometimes be viewed as a ‘personal flaw.’

“In fact, many of these conditions – you can link them back to childhood traumas. There needs to be less shame and more understanding of systemic causes of illnesses like Type II Diabetes,” Mosby said.  

The first “We Were Always Hungry” talk will take place at Station 20 West on Monday, February 26 at 7 p.m. The second session will take place at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre at the University of Saskatchewan on Tuesday, February 27 at 12:30 p.m. Both talks are free to the public.


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