Book Review: Separate Beds

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Separate Beds is an excellent academic treatment of the system of Indian Hospitals set up in Canada. Dr. Lux says from the outset that she is focusing on understanding the government bureaucracy through the documentary record, but still balances this well with some oral histories from Indigenous Elders, leaders and former patients of the hospitals. In particular, I found her exploration of the Blackfoot and Blood hospitals in southern Alberta really showed the hypocrisy and paradoxes inherent in government policy at the time – as well as the medical pluralism (traditional and biomedical) that occurred in these institutions. The Hobbema (Mascwacis) and Battleford examples in particular demonstrated how Indigenous communities fought for access to health care – a treaty right – on their own terms, especially in the face of discrimination in community hospitals. Finally, Lux shows convincingly that government and medical bureaucrats were often motivated by prejudice, avarice, and their own self interest, even as they cloaked their work in┬áhumanitarianism.
Separate Beds is an essential companion book to James Daschuk’s Clearing the Plains and Ian Mosby’s work on nutritional experiments on reserves and in residential schools. It shows so many of the root causes of health disparities between Indigenous communities and the rest of Canada, and how Canadians have benefited not just from the signing of the treaties, but through the medical cost savings the government squeezed out of Indigenous peoples. While Canadians are incredibly proud of our Medicare system and count it as a defining feature of our identity, it was in large part funded by the creation of a parallel system that penalized and underserved Indigenous individuals and communities.
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