Hunger, Human Experimentation and the Legacy of Residential Schools

April 22, 2014 | Miriam

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A year ago, professor Ian Mosby made headlines across the country with the publication of an article in the journal Histoire sociale/Social History. The article was entitled “Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942-1952.” As he recounts in his own blog, the article sparked a media firestorm both nationally and internationally. It also sparked a national day of protest organized by Aboriginal peoples around the country. Dr. Mosby will be speaking at the Annette Street Branch on Tuesday April 29, 6:30 pm. Arrive early to ensure a seat.

Aboriginal-childrenLittle wonder there was protest and great anger! What Mosby's research had exposed was a chilling program of involuntary biomedical "experiments" performed by government researchers in the 1940s and '50s on Aboriginal people, including children. A report by Andrew Livingstone published in the Toronto Star (16 July 2013) captured the nature of this program:

"Aboriginal children were deliberately starved in the 1940s and ’50s by government researchers in the name of science.

Milk rations were halved for years at residential schools across the country.

Essential vitamins were kept from people who needed them.

Dental services were withheld because gum health was a measuring tool for scientists and dental care would distort research.

For over a decade, aboriginal children and adults were unknowingly subjected to nutritional experiments by Canadian government bureaucrats."

FeedsEnclosure-IMG_4365Moreover, the 1,300 or so Aboriginal people, many of them children, who were so horribly mistreated, were already malnourished. As the Star report continued:

"In 1947, plans were developed for research on about 1,000 hungry aboriginal children in six residential schools in Port Alberni, B.C., Kenora, Ont., Schubenacadie, N.S., and Lethbridge, Alta.

One school for two years deliberately held milk rations to less than half the recommended amount to get a ‘baseline’ reading for when the allowance was increased. At another school, children were divided into one group that received vitamin, iron and iodine supplements and one that didn’t.

One school depressed levels of vitamin B1 to create another baseline before levels were boosted.

And, so that all the results could be properly measured, one school was allowed none of those supplements."

This talk is the final spring 2014 History Matters lecture and completes a series of talks on The Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, Past and Present. This talk and the others have been presented in collaboration with and Heritage Toronto.