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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942-1952 (Papers: Ian Mosvy | 2013)

 


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Between 1942 and 1952, some of Canada’s leading nutrition experts, in cooperation with various federal departments, conducted an unprecedented series of nutritional studies of Aboriginal communities and residential schools. The most ambitious and perhaps best known of these was the 1947-1948 James Bay Survey of the Attawapiskat and Rupert’s House Cree First Nations. Less well known were two separate long-term studies that went so far as to include controlled experiments conducted, apparently without the subjects’ informed consent or knowledge, on malnourished Aboriginal populations in Northern Manitoba and, later, in six Indian residential schools. This article explores these studies and experiments, in part to provide a narrative record of a largely unexamined episode of exploitation and neglect by the Canadian government. At the same time, it situates these studies within the context of broader federal policies governing the lives of Aboriginal peoples, a shifting Canadian consensus concerning the science of nutrition, and changing attitudes towards the ethics of biomedical experimentation on human beings during a period that encompassed, among other things, the establishment of the Nuremberg Code of experimental research ethics.

This paper relates to the shocking news report we posted yesterday (13/05/2018) about a class action in response to this research.

IN MARCH 1942, and after months of planning, a group of scientific and medical researchers travelled by bush plane and dog sled to the Cree communities of Norway House, Cross Lake, God’s Lake Mine, Rossville, and The Pas in Northern Manitoba. The trip was jointly sponsored by Indian Affairs, the New York-based Milbank Memorial Fund, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the Hudson’s Bay Company but had been spearheaded by Indian Affairs Branch Superintendent of Medical Services Dr. Percy Moore and RCAF Wing Commander Dr. Frederick Tisdall – Canada’s leading nutrition expert and the co-inventor of the infant food Pablum. The goal was to “study the state of nutrition of the Indian by newly developed medical procedures,” which meant that – in addition to collecting information on local subsistence patterns – the research team conducted detailed physical examinations, blood tests, and x-rays on nearly 400 Aboriginal residents of these communities.1 But even before they began to administer their battery of medical tests, the researchers were immediately struck by the frightening toll that malnutrition and hunger appeared to be taking. At both Norway House and Cross Lake, they reported that, “while most of the people were going about trying to make a living, they were really sick enough to be in bed under treatment and that if they were white people, they would be in bed and demanding care and medical attention.” Following a visit to the homes of some of the elderly residents of Norway House at the request of the Chief and Council, moreover, researchers found that “conditions were deplorable where the old people were almost starved and were plainly not get- ting enough food to enable them to much more than keep alive.”
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Mosby, I. (2013) “Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942-1952” Histoire sociale/Social History XLVI, 91 (Mai/May 2013), 615-642. Publisher (Open Access): https://hssh.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/hssh/article/viewFile/40239/36424



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