Sunday, July 21, 2013


It was General Philip Sheridan who said, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." In Canada, we like to think that our history is not as savage as that of the United States. But a study from the University of Guelph puts the lie to that sop. Our government backed a scientific experiment to study the affect of starvation on first nations people.

Phil Fontaine, Michael Dan an Bernie Farber write in The Toronto Star:

It is time for Canadians to face the sad truth. Canada engaged in a deliberate policy of attempted genocide against First Nations people. And the starvation experiments were only the first of a litany of similar such attempts to control, delegitimize and, yes, even annihilate First Nations to suit the needs of a growing Dominion.

These "nutrition experiments" were carried out in residential schools. It wasn't the first time that science -- or the lack of it -- was used against first nations people. The authors write that in 1907, Dr. Pete Bryce, Canada's first Chief Medical Officer, told his superiors in Ottawa that:

Canada’s aboriginal people in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan were being “decimated by tuberculosis and that the federal government possessed the means to stop it.” Instead, it chose a such minimalist approach that, in the medical opinion of Dr. Bryce, it “amounted to almost nothing.”

The government of the day sought to hide Bryce’s findings from the general public and chose to bury the report and relieve Bryce of his duties. This had the effect of ensuring that no real steps would be taken to help save the lives of natives on reserves and in residential schools from the ravages of this disease. Indeed, Bryce was so frustrated that in the end he charged that “the government’s treatment of it’s aboriginal peoples amounted to nothing less than an infuriating and criminal disregard to the country’s Treaty pledges.”

In Canada, we sweep what is inconvenient or unpleasant under the rug. We can no longer do that. Former prime minister Paul Martin called these nutrition experiments "monstrous." Conditions on Canadian reserves have been monstrous for a long time.


Linda Shellington said...

"amounted to almost nothing" and Harper/Conpuppets carry on that tradition of nothing dressed up to look like something. A total sham...

Owen Gray said...

The Harperites are masters of offering Canadians nothing for something. Unfortunately, Linda, that policy didn't begin with them.

But they have perfected it.

Lorne said...

It is so important that the past not be swept under the rug, Owen. That way we might not be so keen to get on our high horse and look down on other jurisdictions, as we are wont to do.

The Mound of Sound said...

Neglect, no matter how horrid, isn't genocide. It's offensive when that term is misused.

Genocide is the wilful extermination of a people by another people or state. Romeo Dallaire can tell you what genocide means.

This ain't it.

Owen Gray said...

We tend to be smug, Lorne. And our smugness keeps us from seeing unpleasant truths.

Owen Gray said...

I'll agree that this wasn't Rwanda, Mound. And it's not Phil Sheridan riding out to sweep the plains clean.

But it betrays a moral hollowness that is frightening in its whole scale writing off of people as expendable.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I disagree that this is not genocide. It certainly was cultural genocide when three generations were forced to attend residential schools where they were forbidden to use their language or observe any aspect of their culture. In fact, they were taught to be ashamed of being indians. Neglect when they can help, resulting in deaths and declines in numbers is a slow genocide. Experimenting on vulnerable populations is not limited to native Canadians. The mentally handicapped suffered forces sterilization. I remember my compassionate mother thought this was a humane think to do. Then there were the CIA experiments on brain washing in Canada. How about soldiers in Canada subject to exposure to agent orange. God only know what other experiments have been inflicted on us.

Owen Gray said...

The 20th Century was full of examples of "enlightened" science which victimized human beings in the name of progress, Philip.

There have been too many Dr. Mengeles.