Government conducted malnutrition studies on First Nations children
The Canadian government deliberately starved First Nations people – mostly children – in the 1940’s and 1950’s in order to study malnutrition, according to a new study.
Ian Mosby, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Guelph, recently released a report that examined experiments conducted by the federal government in various communities and residential schools where First Nations people were subjected to malnutrition “without informed consent or knowledge.”
The malnutrition studies were conducted in six residential schools across Canada, including the St. Mary’s and Cecilia Jeffrey schools in Kenora.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said the report has sent a “shockwave” through First Nations across Canada.
“The reports of these studies, in which more than a thousand Indigenous children were denied essential nutrition and in some cases deliberately starved, were reported as far back as 2000 but did not gain national attention,” Atleo said in a statement.
Atleo said he has a “deeply personal connection” to the report since his community was one that had been subjected to the study.
“My Elders and family members were exposed to this cruel and inhumane treatment where our children were treated like lab rats,” he said.
In 1942, researchers discovered First Nations people in northern Manitoba were starving and malnourished. But instead of recommending increased funding and support, the researchers viewed the people as “experimental materials” and residential schools and Aboriginal communities “as kinds of ‘laboratories,’” according to Mosby’s report.
Milk rations in certain residential schools were halved, and communities were deprived of essential vitamins.
The subjects were denied dental care “because dental caries and gingivitis were both ‘important factors in assessing nutritional status,’” and “any significant dental interventions would interfere with the results of the study.”
The new revelations have led First Nations leaders and community members to call on the federal government to acknowledge and apologize for the studies.
A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said the current federal government is shocked by the findings.
“If this story is true, this is abhorrent and completely unacceptable,” the spokesperson stated in an e-mail last week.
“When Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper made a historic apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools in 2008 on behalf of all Canadians, he recognized that this period had caused great harm and had no place in Canada.”
The spokesperson added that the federal government “remains committed to a fair and lasting resolution to the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools.”
In light of the study, a National Day of Prayer is being organized for July 25 in various cities and communities across the country.
This day calls on the federal government to release all documents pertaining to the residential schools in Canada and to “honour the apology,” referring to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology about Canada’s role in the legacy of the residential school system.
Mosby’s findings came about when he was researching the development of health policy following the Second World War.
The report, called “Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942-1952,” is available online at: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/histoire_sociale_social_history/v046/46.91.mosby.html
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