Residential school students’ bodies ‘were experimental materials’: Mosby

Ian Mosby spoke to Alberni Indian Residential School students at Maht Mahs gym on Wednesday morning about  nutrition experiments performed on them in the 1940’s and 1950’s. - WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News
Ian Mosby spoke to Alberni Indian Residential School students at Maht Mahs gym on Wednesday morning about nutrition experiments performed on them in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

Early researchers viewed students from Alberni Indian Residential School as bodies to be experimented on and the school as a laboratory, researcher Ian Mosby said.

“I have an eight-month-old son. Imagining him going through something like this is unimaginable,” Mosby said to a crowd of more than 200 at Maht Mahs gym on Wednesday morning.

Former AIRS students came from as far away as Alberta and Northern B.C. to attend a special one-day AIRS Nutritional Experiments Forum, which was hosted by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and Tseshaht First Nation.

The event sought to provide information to students about nutritional experiments performed on them by researchers in the 1940s and 1950s.

Now an adjunct professor at Guelph University, Mosby came across the findings at the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa while he was studying Canada’s nutrition policies during the Second World War.

“The documents were discovered by accident and not by someone who was looking for them,” Mosby said. “It begs the question: were there additional experiments in Indian hospitals and residential schools.”

Mosby’s role in the forum was to provide as much information to former students as possible. “We don’t know everything we can know,” he said. “There’s more documents to be found. The feds must step up.”

At AIRS, researchers curtailed students milk intakes to half that of the recommended amount for two years to establish a baseline. Then, they added extra milk to see what the effects would be.

Researchers monitored students blood, saliva and dental conditions during the tests.

Students were also denied fluoride  during the experiments. Dental conditions and gingivitis were considered integral to determining nutritional status. “Any significant dental intervention would interfere with the results of the study,” Mosby said.

At the outset of tests researchers found that the children were already malnourished from poor quality and quantity diets at the schools, Mosby said.

The experiments were conducted without informed consent, and with no thought to ethics, both issues of which were in their infancy stage of development.

Researchers viewed malnourished students as “an opportunity first” rather than an issue requiring medical intervention, Mosby said. “They viewed aboriginal bodies as experimental materials, and residential schools as labs to further their...agendas,” Mosby said.

The Canadian Red Cross was not involved in the experiments but they did survey residential schools during the experiment period, Mosby said.

In the end, the experiments proved of little value. Much of the research was never completed. Some that was published was done so only in minor journals, Mosby said.

In an interview with the News, Mosby said he was struck when looking into the audience at the faces of adults who were the very children who were experimented on in Port Alberni.

“I’m amazed at the strength of the people who came here today,” he said. “It must be very difficult for them to be here.”

Mosby said that he was aware of the litany of abuses at the residential schools. “But I was shocked and horrified by what I found with this,” he said.

“Given the level of abuse though I can’t say I’m surprised that this was allowed to happen.”

The experiments are consistent with the mandate of the day to extinguish aboriginal culture. “But this very event shows that this failed,” Mosby said. “And that’s a testament to the strength of the survivors.”

In a twist, coming to Alberni to speak at the forum is something of a homecoming for Mosby. His father Rod was born in the Alberni Valley but relocated to Castlegar when he was a young man.

The government’s conduct was “immoral if not criminal” Tseshaht chief councillor Hugh Braker said.

The Tseshaht are calling for the government to apologize for the experiments, to fully disclose what happened, provide reparation for it and to underwrite research  into the long-term impacts of the experiments, Braker said.

AIRS students were helpless to stop what happened. “If this happened at a private boarding school in Point Grey then there would be an uproar,” he said.

A representative from the Red Cross was slated to address the forum after the News deadline.


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