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Island aboriginal leaders furious after experiments on underfed children come to light

Revelations about nutritional experiments on hungry children at Indian residential schools show that some horrors inflicted on aboriginal students remain secret, say furious B.C.

Revelations about nutritional experiments on hungry children at Indian residential schools show that some horrors inflicted on aboriginal students remain secret, say furious B.C. First Nations leaders who are demanding the Canadian government immediately reveal the full extent of abuse and compensate victims.

“This clearly indicates that we have not got the full story. We need to have government come clean,” said Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Cliff Atleo.

Outrage has greeted a report by University of Guelph food historian Ian Mosby, who found records showing that, between 1942 and 1952, on northern Manitoba reserves and at six residential schools across the country — including Alberni Indian Residential School on Vancouver Island — malnourished children were used as guinea pigs.

Mosby found research showing milk was withheld, dental services refused and some children given vitamins and minerals while others received no supplements to provide a baseline.

Questions are being raised about other experiments in institutions such as Indian hospitals, said Atleo, who attended Alberni residential school from 1954 to 1963.

On Wednesday, at the B.C. caucus of the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting in Whitehorse, one speaker described children at Kuper Island Residential School on Penelakut Island having their front four teeth removed for no obvious reason, Atleo said.

“There’s no question that there’s more to be discovered and there’s no question that the health issues are reverberating today. It’s disgusting,” he said.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president, said it is time Canadians learned about their “sordid, brutal, neo-colonial history.”

“There has been a very deliberate effort on the part of the government of Canada to suppress the records and files that reveal these atrocities,” Phillip said.

Hugh Braker, chief councillor of the Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni, said many victims of the experiments at the Alberni school are alive today and are still suffering the consequences.

“The federal government concealed the facts of the experimentation until today. … The conduct by government was immoral if not criminal,” he said.

Huu-ay-aht First Nation elder Benson Nookemus, 77, was already losing his teeth when he left Alberni residential school in 1947, after spending five years there.

“A lot of us were always sick,” he said. “We were always hungry. We used to dig up raw potatoes and carrots from the school garden and eat them.”

In Alberni, children were refused dental care because government employees wanted to see the effect of an improper diet on children’s health, and received eight ounces of milk a day, instead of the recommended 24 ounces.

Even after researchers found problems, the low milk ration was maintained for two years to provide a baseline, says Mosby’s report.

“These children were helpless victims for the government’s experiments,” Braker said. “They had been forcibly taken from their home, had no parents available to protect them, were beaten and abused in school, forbidden from speaking their language and then the government conducted experiments on them,” he said.

Blood samples were taken from children — who ranged in age from five to 16 — and letters written by the children show they were given unidentified injections, Braker said.

It is shocking that some staff involved in the experiments were from the Canadian Red Cross, which now has a lot of explaining to do, Braker said.

The Tseshaht nation is calling on the federal government to apologize to victims, disclose all facts about the experiments, provide compensation for victims and provide funding for research into the effects of the experiments.

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With a file from Alberni Valley Times

• Ian Mosby's article, Administering Colonial Science