Fluoride Action Network

Church responds to diet experiments in residential schools

Source: KenoraOnline | July 21st, 2013 | By Mike Aiken
Location: Canada, First Nations
Industry type: Human experiments

Earlier this week, news reports described experiments in nutrition run through two residential schools in Kenora. They included children at C.J. and St. Mary’s during the 1940’s and 1950’s. On Friday, Steve Allen from the Presbyterian Church in Canada responded to the research by Dr. Ian Mosby.

“Reading his paper is chilling, and it’s really painful. Dealing with the legacy of the residential schools doesn’t have an easy beginning and end. These things emerge,” said Allen, who heads the justice ministries programs on behalf of the church.

Mosby is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Guelph. He recently published an academic article, which described experiments designed to help aboriginal people make the transition from a traditional diet to more mainstream foods.

In his paper, Mosby writes “The experiment therefore 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.’ ”

Mosby further emphasizes that the research was carried out without the informed consent of the parents or children involved.

He further argues:

“J. R. Miller has argued that the early architects of Canada’s residential school system saw the schools as “social laboratories in which people’s beliefs and ways could be refashioned.”57 But as these experiments made clear, the systematic neglect and mistreatment of students in these schools also made them into ideal scientific laboratories. For Pett and his research team, in particular, the malnourished Aboriginal subjects of these experiments provided the means to weigh in on a number of scientific controversies, including ongoing disagreements over the effectiveness of dental interventions like fluoride treatment versus nutritional supplementation for maintaining an individual’s oral health. Indeed, when researchers learned that Indian Health Services dentists had visited the Alberni, St. Mary’s, and Cecilia Jeffrey’s schools in the early years of the study, the research team quickly sent off telegrams and [End Page 162] letters insisting that, for the duration of the study, “no specialized, over-all type of dental service should be provided [to the students], such as the use of sodium fluoride, dental prophylaxis or even urea compounds.” It was argued that, because dental caries and gingivitis were both “important factors in assessing nutritional status,” any significant dental interventions would interfere with the results of the study.58 Students in the experimental schools, in other words, were denied treatment that other students would have had access to during the five year study period.”

In some cases, the lack of consent by a vulnerable people was apparent:”Pett, of course, neglected to mention that his study was largely made possible because of his access to a population of chronically malnourished and vulnerable children who, as wards of the state, had little say in whether or not they participated in the study. Nor did he mention that the success of the study depended on so-called “controls” and experimental subjects alike being fed, for anywhere between two and five years, diets known to be nutritionally inadequate or, for that matter, that they were being actively denied certain types of dental care for the duration of the study. The anemia that developed among students at St. Mary’s, moreover, seems to have simply highlighted one of the main barriers to the kinds of human experiments being advocated by Pett – when confronted with the possible risks, few would consciously choose to allow themselves or their children to take part in such a study.”

In the end, Mosby concludes, “Ultimately, it seems that none of these experiments and studies conducted between 1942 and 1952 had much in the way of long-term positive effects on the lives of those being studied.”

In response, the statement from the church reads as follows:

PCC Responds to Issue of Nutritional Experimentation on Children at Indian Residential Schools

The Presbyterian Church in Canada is disturbed and saddened by information revealed in a paper published by Ian Mosby in an academic journal about nutritional experiments carried out on Aboriginal adults and over 1,000 Aboriginal children between 1942 and 1952.

Some of these children attended Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ontario, one of the two residential schools run by The Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Ian Mosby’s paper is chilling and painful to read. These nutritional experiments were carried out without the knowledge and consent of the affected communities and the parents whose children attended residential school.

The journey of healing and reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada is a path laden with painful truth telling. Nutritional experimentation is another example of that painful truth. The Confession, adopted by the 120th General Assembly (1994), is a living document and we turn to it again in seeking forgiveness from God and from our Aboriginal brothers and sisters whose parents were part of these nutritional experiments or who themselves may have been part of the experiments.

The concluding paragraph of The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s Confession continues to challenge us as this journey continues.

We ask, also, for forgiveness from Aboriginal peoples. What we have heard we acknowledge. It is our hope that those whom we have wronged with a hurt too deep for telling will accept what we have to say. With God’s guidance our Church will seek opportunities to walk with Aboriginal peoples to find healing and wholeness together as God’s people.

For more information:
Presbyterian Church in Canada – Response
Administering Colonial Science – Original research paper

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