The U.S., Australia and New Zealand practiced their own variants of residential schools. The Australian experience is told in the searing, 2002 film, ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence.’
Aboriginals subjected to experiments
By Mike Hager, Vancouver Sun, and Bob Weber, Canadian Press, July 17, 2013
Recently published historical research says hungry aboriginal children and adults were once used as unwitting subjects in nutritional experiments by Canadian government bureaucrats, including at a residential school in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.
“This was the hardest thing I’ve ever written,” said Ian Mosby, who has revealed new details about one of the least-known but perhaps most disturbing aspects of government policy toward aboriginals immediately after the Second World War.
Mosby — whose work at the University of Guelph focuses on the history of food in Canada — was researching the development of health policy when he ran across something strange. Government documents eventually revealed a decade-long, government-run experiment starting in 1942 that came to span the entire country and involved at least 1,300 aboriginals, most of them children.
At the Port Alberni residential school, milk rations were deliberately held for two years to less than half the recommended amount to get a “baseline” reading for when the allowance was tripled, according to a 1953 report unearthed by Mosby.
Bella Coola’s Lorraine Tallio, 64, spent about three years at the Port Alberni school starting in 1954 and painfully remembers about half of the students drinking milk with each meal and the others being denied it. “They had staff members in the dining room,” she said. “They would make sure that the ones ( who) got the milk drank the milk without sharing.”
Mosby said the system of enforced consumption could have continued at that school, though his own research did not extend beyond 1952. But he said in an email that “most residential school survivors have powerful memories of hunger and food related punishments being a key element of their experiences.”
The tests first began with a 1942 visit by government researchers to a number of remote aboriginal reserve communities in northern Manitoba, including places such as The Pas and Norway House. They found people who were hungry, beggared by a combination of the collapsing fur trade and declining government support. The population was demoralized and marked by, in the words of the researchers, “shiftlessness, indolence, improvidence and inertia.”
The researchers suggested those problems — “so long regarded as inherent or hereditary traits in the Indian race” — were in fact the results of malnutrition. Instead of recommending an increase in support, the researchers decided that isolated, dependent, hungry people would be ideal subjects for tests on the effects of different diets.
“This is a period of scientific uncertainty around nutrition,” said Mosby. “Vitamins and minerals had really only been discovered during the interwar period.
“In the 1940s, there were a lot of questions about what are human requirements for vitamins. Malnourished aboriginal people became viewed as possible means of testing these theories.”
The first experiment began on 300 Norway House Cree. Of that group, 125 were selected to receive vitamin supplements, which were withheld from the rest. At the time, researchers calculated the local people were living on less than 1,500 calories a day. Normal, healthy adults generally require at least 2,000.
“The research team was well aware that these vitamin supplements only addressed a small part of the problem,” Mosby writes. “The experiment seems to have been driven, at least in part, by the nutrition experts’ desire to test their theories on a ready- made ‘ laboratory’ populated with already malnourished human experimental subjects.”
The research spread. In 1947, plans were developed for research on about 1,000 hungry aboriginal children in six residential schools in Port Alberni, Kenora, Ont., Schubenacadie, N. S., and Lethbridge, Alta.
At one school, children were divided into one group that received vitamin, iron and iodine supplements and one that didn’t. Another school depressed levels of vitamin B1 to create another baseline before levels were boosted. A special enriched flour that couldn’t legally be sold elsewhere in Canada under food adulteration laws was fed to children at another school. And, so that all the results could be properly measured, one school was allowed none of those supplements.
Many dental services were withdrawn from participating schools during that time. Gum health was an important measuring tool for scientists and they didn’t want treatments on children’s teeth distorting results.
The experiments, repugnant today, would probably have been considered ethically dubious even at the time, said Mosby. “I think they really did think they were helping people. Whether they thought they were helping the people that were actually involved in the studies, that’s a different question.” He noted that rules for research on humans were just being formulated and adopted by the scientific community.
Little has been written about the nutritional experiments. A May 2000 article in the Anglican Journal about some of them was the only reference Mosby could find.
Not much was learned from those hungry little bodies. A few papers were published — “they were not very helpful,” Mosby said — and he couldn’t find evidence that the Norway House research program was completed. “They knew from the beginning that the real problem and the cause of malnutrition was underfunding. That was established before the studies even started and when the studies were completed that was still the problem.”
For Tallio, the new research is further proof of “how cruel” the residential schools were “for our native people.”
“People should speak up and say this is what happened to us. Some ( native) people don’t even want to talk about it because it upsets them.”
‘Sixties scoop’ children back in Toronto court
Beaverhouse First Nation Chief Marcia Brown Martel was one of about 16,000 Aboriginal children taken from their families in what is often called the Sixties Scoop. She said she is relieved that the class action lawsuit against the federal government she tried to start years ago will finally go ahead.
A Toronto lawyer representing Aboriginal people taken from their families during the so-called “Sixties Scoop” say they deserve the same acknowledgement given to residential school survivors. On Tuesday [July 16], the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled a class-action lawsuit against the federal government can proceed to trial.
Jeffery Wilson said about 16,000 Aboriginal children in Ontario were sent to live in non-Aboriginal homes between 1965 and 1985. “The motivating issue for the representative plaintiffs is less about money and more about taking steps that assures this cannot happen again.”
Wilson said the children were robbed of their Aboriginal culture, language and identity and are suffering the consequences as adults.
‘What happened to them was wrong’
Beaverhouse First Nation Chief Marcia Brown Martel was one of those thousands of children who were taken from their families. “My biological family was given the information that I was mentally handicapped,” she said. “That’s what the social workers told my family.”
Authorities sent Brown Martel to live with a non-Aboriginal family in southern Ontario, where she grew up without any connection to First Nations culture or language. “I cannot be, nor am I, the person that I would have been,” she said.
Brown Martel and another plaintiff, Robert Commanda, began their attempt to launch a class action lawsuit against the Attorney General of Canada four years ago.
Wilson said his clients hope proceeding to trial will ultimately result in “a ruling that really says that what happened to them was wrong and shouldn’t have occurred.”
Like residential schools, the “Sixties Scoop” stole the Aboriginal identity of an entire generation, he said. “It’s hard to reconcile how the Prime Minister or how Canada can say ‘we’re sorry’ for the effect in respect to the residential schools case and not offer the same form of acceptance … of these persons’ harm and suffering.”
Brown Martel said she hopes the trial will bring some assurance “that this will never be, ever, ever allowed in this country to … happen [to] any children.”
Now that the lawsuit has been granted certification, Wilson said he hopes other affected people will come forward. “Any Aboriginal person who was placed in a non-Aboriginal home between 1964 and 1985 … can register to be a participant in this class action,” he said.
* References to similarities of Canada’s ‘Sixties Scoop’ practiced in the U.S. and Australia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixties_Scoop
* More background to the Sixties Scoop: http://www.originscanada.org/the-stolen-generation/