Recently published research by Canadian food historian Ian Mosby has revealed that at least 1,300 aboriginal people — most of them children — were used as test subjects in the 1940s and '50s by researchers looking at the effectiveness of vitamin supplements.
The research began in 1942 on about 300 Cree in Norway House in northern Manitoba. Plans were later 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.
Vivian Ketchum, whose mother attended St. Mary's Residential School in Kenora, told CBC News that hearing of the experiments has brought her sorrow and anger to a new level.
"Immediately my thoughts were to my parents. Like, I thought the residential school issues [were] bad enough, and now this on top of it?" Ketchum said Wednesday.
Mosby said his research puts the spotlight on a little-known event that was perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of government policy toward aboriginal people.
"It shows Canadians the mentality behind Canada's Indian administration during this period," he said.
"It seems that little good came out of the studies in terms of scientific knowledge."
'Abhorrent and completely unacceptable'
In a statement, the federal government said officials are looking into the matter.
"If this story is true, this is abhorrent and completely unacceptable," the statement read in part.
National Chief Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations said time does not absolve the government of responsibility.
"The reason for this malnutrition in the '40s was lack of funding supports for children to have proper food. We still have that problem today," Atleo said from the AFN's annual meeting in Whitehorse.
The chief councillor of the Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni, B.C., said he wants an apology from the federal government.
"Canada has been sitting on this and hiding this information from the aboriginal people now since it first happened in the '40s and '50s," said Hugh Braker, who added that the band is horrified by the revelations.
"There needs to be an apology done to the victims of the experimentation," he added.
Other First Nations leaders are calling for all information about the nutrition tests to be made publicly available.