Published on
Common Dreams

First Nations 'Guinea Pigs' Demand Apology for Govt Nutrition Experiments

Outrage follows revelations that Canadian government deprived aboriginal children of vitamins, food and health care

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

First Nations leaders are demanding an apology following revelations that the Canadian government conducted widespread "nutrition experiments" on malnourished aboriginal populations in the years following World War Two.

The experiments were revealed by food and nutrition historian Ian Mosby, who—while researching—stumbled upon the suspicious documents chronicling a decade-long study conducted by the Canadian government on at least 1,300 aboriginals, most of them children already forced to live at the country's residential schools.

Mosby's findings, which were published in May under the title Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942-1952 (pdf) disclose details of how the government, with help from the Red Cross, deliberately deprived malnourished aboriginal populations of food, medical treatment and nutritional supplements.

“Hundreds were subjected to illegal, unauthorized experimentations,” said Tseshaht chief councilor Hugh Braker. “They were starved and deprived of health care on purpose.”

"Canada has been sitting on this and hiding this information from the aboriginal people now since it first happened in the '40s and '50s," added Braker. "There needs to be an apology done to the victims of the experimentation."

According to Mosby, the study began with government research trips to northern Manitoba during which they found "widespread hunger, if not starvation" among members of the aboriginal community. "And one of their immediate responses was to design a controlled experiment on the effectiveness of vitamin supplementation on this population."

"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," he added.

The experiments began in 1942 with researchers depriving certain 'test groups' of Cree people of important vitamin supplements. As the CBC, reporting on Mosby's research, writes:

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.

"The term 'guinea pig' comes to mind quite quickly and readily, because that's what we were, I guess," said 76-year-old Alvin Dixon, who as a boy was taken from his family and forced into one of the many Indian residential schools. Dixon said he recalls having to fill out forms about his food consumption.

Cliff Atleo, president of the Nuu-Chah-nulth Tribal Council, is demanding all information about the tests to be made available to Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is already studying the legacy of Canada's residential schools.

"It's hard not to get sick to the stomach," he said. "This story … is really going to open up some old wounds, and scars that really run deep in our communities."

CBC has this report:


This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Share This Article

More in: