For Canada and First Nations, it’s time to end the experiments


Op-Ed by SHAWN ATLEO, The Globe and Mail

Recent reports about the Canadian government’s experiments on hungry, impoverished First Nations children in residential schools have sent a shock wave through the country.

My reaction was deeply personal. My father attended one of the schools where these experiments took place. My family and countless others were treated like lab rats, some even being deprived of necessary nutrition and health care so researchers could establish a “baseline” to measure the effects of food and diet.

First Nations, while condemning the government’s callous disregard for the welfare of children, were perhaps the only ones not completely surprised. The experiments are part of a long, sad pattern of federal policy that stretches through residential schools, forced relocations and the ultimate social experiment, the Indian Act, which overnight tried to displace ways of life that had been in place for generations. All of these experiments are abject failures.

It’s time to end the experiments. Canada must start working with us to honour the promises our ancestors made in treaties and other agreements, to give life to our rights as recognized by Canadian courts and relinquish the chokehold of colonial control over our communities.

As I said on the day this report came to light: Canada, this is your history. We must confront the ugly truths and move forward together. And there is a way forward that requires a dedicated commitment across three key areas: respect, fairness and reconciliation.

Respect requires that Canada work with First Nations to give life to our rights, title and treaties. This requires true partnership. The government must stop making decisions for us and start working with us. First Nations want control over the decisions that affect their lives, to shape their own policies and institutions. They are putting ideas on the table and driving solutions.

We see this clearly in the commitment and clarion call for First Nations control of First Nations education. We reject unilaterally imposed legislation. We will exercise our right to create our own systems that are sustainable, that support our children’s success and value our languages and cultures. This is already happening in Nova Scotia, Alberta, B.C. and elsewhere – First Nations working together and pooling expertise to achieve graduation rates that exceed provincial norms. This is success we must support. It must be not the exception, but our collective expectation and commitment.

Fairness requires that we end the unequal funding that condemns too many of our people to a daily struggle to survive. The experiments on our children did not make us poor. Rather, the government experimented on our children because they were poor, an impoverished population suffering from malnutrition and deprivation. But like so much else, poverty was imposed on us. The research notes that government systematically cut back relief payments to First Nations throughout the Depression era. Non-indigenous Canadians received relief at a rate two and three times higher than First Nations. At the onset of the Second World War, relief was cut again and we were further deprived.

This is still happening. Funding for First Nations – for many of the same things Canadians expect, such as schools and infrastructure – has been capped at a 2-per-cent increase, per year, for 17 years, despite the fact that our population has boomed and inflation outpaces this amount. Provinces enjoy transfers closer to 6 per cent, and these are guaranteed.

Escaping the poverty trap requires fairness, an investment now so we can build stable communities today and stronger nations tomorrow. Research shows that healthy First Nations can contribute hundreds of billions to the economy, while saving more than a $100-billion in costs connected to poverty. Why would we not support this approach?

Finally, the way forward requires reconciliation. This means truth telling, and it requires deliberate and clear action. The government must come forward and disclose all documentation on residential schools to the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The government must be open and transparent in accounting for its spending on First Nations and the billion dollars that is poured into the bureaucracy each year. The government must stop stalling and release all documents related to its unequal funding of First Nations child welfare, the subject of a current complaint before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. It also means action to advance reconciliation through recognizing our inherent rights and responsibilities and clear commitment to honouring and implementing treaties and agreements forged between the Crown and First Nations.

Canadians are rightfully shocked by these revelations. It shakes the core of their belief in Canada as a fair and just nation. It’s time to be honest about our history. We can’t change the past but we must commit to change the present and work together to create a better, brighter and just future.

Shawn A-in-chut Atleo is National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations

3,000 confirmed Indian residential school deaths

Residential School classColin Perkel, Canadian Press, Feb 2013

At least 3,000 children, including four under the age of 10 found huddled together in frozen embrace, are now known to have died during attendance at Canada’s Indian residential schools, according to new unpublished research. While deaths have long been documented as part of the disgraced residential school system, the findings are the result of the first systematic search of government, school and other records.
“These are actual confirmed numbers,” Alex Maass, research manager with the Missing Children Project, told The Canadian Press from Vancouver. “All of them have primary documentation that indicates that there’s been a death, when it occurred, what the circumstances were.”
The number could rise further as more documents — especially from government archives — come to light. The largest single killer, by far, was disease. For decades starting in about 1910, tuberculosis was a consistent killer — in part because of widespread ignorance over how diseases were spread.
“The schools were a particular breeding ground for (TB),” Maass said. “Dormitories were incubation wards.” The Spanish flu epidemic in 1918-1919 also took a devastating toll on students — and in some cases staff.
For example, in one grim three-month period, the disease killed 20 children at a residential school in Spanish, Ont., the records show. While a statistical analysis has yet to be done, the records examined over the past few years also show children also died of malnutrition or accidents.
Schools consistently burned down, killing students and staff. Drownings or exposure were another cause. In all, about 150,000 First Nations children went through the church-run residential school system, which ran from the 1870s until the 1990s.
In many cases, native kids were forced to attend under a deliberate federal policy of “civilizing” Aboriginal Peoples.Residential-school girls class Many students were physically, mentally and sexually abused. Some committed suicide. Some died fleeing their schools. One heart-breaking incident that drew rare media attention at the time involved the deaths of four boys — two aged 8 and two aged 9 — in early January 1937. A Canadian Press report from Vanderhoof, B.C., describes how the four bodies were found frozen together in slush ice on Fraser Lake, barely a kilometre from home. The “capless and lightly clad” boys had left an Indian school on the south end of the lake “apparently intent on trekking home to the Nautley Reserve,” the article states. A coroner’s inquest later recommended “excessive corporal discipline” of students be “limited.”
The records reveal the number of deaths only fell off dramatically after the 1950s, although some fatalities occurred into the 1970s. “The question I ask myself is: Would I send my child to a private school where there were even a couple of deaths the previous year without looking at it a little bit more closely?” Maass said. “One wouldn’t expect any death rates in private residential schools.” In fact, Maass said, student deaths were so much part of the system, architectural plans for many schools included cemeteries that were laid out in advance of the building. Maass, who has a background in archeology, said researchers had identified 50 burial sites as part of the project. About 500 of the victims remain nameless. Documentation of their deaths was contained in Department of Indian Affairs year-end reports based on information from school principals. The annual death reports were consistently done until 1917, when they abruptly stopped. “It was obviously a policy not to report them,” Maass said.
In the 1990s, thousands of victims sued the churches that ran the 140 schools and the Canadian government. A $1.9-billion settlement of the lawsuit in 2007 prompted an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The research — carried out under the auspices of the commission — has involved combing through more than one million government and other records, including nuns’ journal entries. The longer-term goal is to make the information available at national research centre.
[For me, this report is suspicious since we know there are first-person narratives that describe murders of children in these schools…and the numbers are misleading since many of the schools hid records of deaths (murders)… Lara/Trace]

Hungry First Nations kids, adults were subject of nutritional experiments: paper finds

By: Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

A nurse takes a blood sample from a boy at the Indian School, Port Alberni, B.C., in 1948, during the time when nutritional experiments were being conducted on students there and five other residential schools. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-Library and Archives Canada

A nurse takes a blood sample from a boy at the Indian School, Port Alberni, B.C., in 1948, during the time when nutritional experiments were being conducted on students there and five other residential schools. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-Library and Archives Canada

Recently published historical research says hungry aboriginal children and adults were once used as unwitting subjects in nutritional experiments by Canadian government bureaucrats.

“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.

“I started to find vague references to studies conducted on ‘Indians’ that piqued my interest and seemed potentially problematic, to say the least,” he said. “I went on a search to find out what was going on.”

Government documents eventually revealed a long-standing, government-run experiment that came to span the entire country and involved at least 1,300 aboriginals, most of them children.

It began with a 1942 visit by government researchers to a number of remote 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. They also found a demoralized population 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 in 1942 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, B.C., Kenora, Ont., Schubenacadie, N.S., and Lethbridge, Alta.

One school deliberately held milk rations for two years to less than half the recommended amount to get a ‘baseline’ reading for when the allowance was increased. At another, 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. A special enriched flour that couldn’t legally be sold elsewhere in Canada under food adulteration laws was used on 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.

A spokeswoman 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,” Andrea Richer said in an email. “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.”

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.

“I assumed that somebody would have written about an experiment conducted on aboriginal people during this period, and kept being surprised when I found more details and the scale of it. I was really, really surprised.

“It’s an emotionally difficult topic to study.”

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.”

[After reading this, I needed a good cry…for it’s not the first time First Nations children and adults have suffered such indignity at the hands of evil…There is evil around us even now… Lara/Trace]