Ottawa experiment on native children ‘appalling’

By

Brenda Still

The May 2000 issue of the Anglican Journal, which published a special report on what happened to native children in residential schools. It included an account of how Ottawa experimented with their diets. Photo: Marites N. Sison
The May 2000 issue of the Anglican Journal, which published a special report on what happened to native children in residential schools. It included an account of how Ottawa experimented with their diets. Photo: Marites N. Sison

On July 16, several publications carried a Canadian Press (CP) story about how Ian Mosby, a historian from the University of Guelph, stumbled on a little-known fact in the course of his research on the history of food in Canada.

In the 1940s, the Canadian government subjected aboriginal children from six Indian residential schools to nutrition experiments that included withholding food and basic dental care, Mosby told CP’s Bob Weber.

And yet, Mosby noted, little was written about this. “A May 2000 article in the Anglican Journal about some of them was the only reference Mosby could find,” reported CP. Here’s the link to that story, Ottawa experimented on Native kids, by David Napier.

Reacting to the news, which has prompted calls for an investigation, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald issued a joint statement today, describing the tests conducted on aboriginal children as “appalling.” Using the schools as laboratories and children as subjects of experiments, they said, is “so inhumane.”

They also joined Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo in calling for a federal investigation into the matter.

Hiltz and MacDonald also noted that issues around nutrition and lack of access to fresh, healthy food continue to be “a primary cause of significant health issues among many indigenous peoples.” It is “an injustice that cries out for the attention of all Canadians.”

The two church leaders reiterated the church’s commitment to address issues affecting indigenous people in Canada as part of its efforts to achieve “genuine reconciliation” with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

Access to food and nutrition will be one of many issues to be addressed by a commission that the primate will appoint this fall, said Hiltz and MacDonald. At the recent General Synod in Ottawa, the primate announced the establishment of that commission, will also examine the issue of reconciliation and the church’s repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

At the 2010 General Synod in Halifax, the church approved a resolution stating that the Doctrine of Discovery is “fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God.” The Doctrine of Discovery was a principle of charters and acts developed by colonizing Western societies more than 500 years ago.

Speaking to the resolution, MacDonald had said the doctrine begins with “the very simple idea in the Western tradition that if you discover a place, you have control and ownership over that place. It had to be an uninhabited place. How do you apply that to the Americas, where there were millions and millions of people?”

The Doctrine of Discovery was also based on the idea that “indigenous peoples in the Americas were uncivilized because they didn’t have any of the traditions and institutions of Western society,” MacDonald said. They were no better than “beasts of the forest…savages…weak and destined to not survive.” This doctrine, he added, formed the basis for the Indian residential school system, which took aboriginal children from their homes in an effort to assimilate them.

Marites N. Sison

Marites N. Sison

Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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