The contents of recent reports alleging that Aboriginal children were intentionally malnourished and used as guinea pigs by the federal government in the 1940's and 1950's requires immediate and decisive action. The reports, which were based on research done by University of Guelph historian Ian Mosby, recount these children being kept on starvation-level diets and denied vitamins. The actions described by Dr. Mosby are unconscionable and should outrage every Canadian.
The federal government must not only immediately launch a full and open investigation to get to the bottom of what happened, but will need to engage with the victims, their families and affected Aboriginal communities to determine the best course of action to heal these emotional wounds.
Stories like this underscore why it is so important for Canadians to know about and understand the appalling historic injustices that Aboriginal peoples have experienced. Coming to terms with these tragic parts of our shared history is imperative if we are to achieve true reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples and heal the intergenerational trauma created by inexcusable actions like these.
All Canadians deserve to know what really happened so that we can appreciate how the physical and emotional scars of these events remain with all of us and continue to impact the families, friends and entire communities of those who were subjected to these experiments.
This story also highlights the need for the Prime Minister to give meaning to his 2008 Residential Schools Apology by working with First Nation's, Inuit and Métis to deal with current unacceptable gaps in social and health outcomes for Aboriginal peoples. At the heart of this story is the fact that hungry Aboriginal children were used as test subjects. What is almost as shocking is that in 2013, Aboriginal children are still far more likely to go hungry and that Aboriginal communities are grossly underfunded in terms of education, housing, water and healthcare.
The Apology also established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to help the healing process, including through creating greater awareness, education, and a complete historical record for the public about the system and legacy of Residential Schools.
However is clear that the TRC has not been given the time or the resources from the current government to achieve its mandate. Further, the TRC was forced to go to court to compel the federal government to provide access the documents on Residential Schools that it needs in order to fulfill the mandate prescribed by the government.
At a recent event here in Ottawa to mark the 5th anniversary of the Apology, a local elementary school student Raiyah Patel eloquently summed up the issue when she said, "on this day we remember the Apology, but this Apology has meaning only if First Nations children have opportunities, can grow up happily in their homes, have a good education, be healthy and have pride in their culture."
We not only need to get to the bottom of the historical atrocities described by Mr. Mosby, but deal with the fact that huge numbers of Aboriginal children currently live in crushing poverty, without access to adequate food, housing, clean water and above all - hope