The Lasting Effects of Harm

Summer Evening CloudsAfter many days of immensely hot, humid, stormy conditions, we have settled into a Fall like time. This is a relief.

Sad news this week. Recent historical research has revealed that undernourished Canadian children, many Native, were used in government research.

The Smithsonian reports:

In 1942, scientists employed by the Canadian government began paying visits to indigenous communities in Manitoba’s northern expanses. Finding that many people living there were poor and malnourished, the scientists decided to give half the population vitamins and leave the other half to fend for themselves, just to see what happened. This kicked off what would be two decades of dubious experiments on malnutrition at the expense of minority citizens, Nature News reports. Until now, those experiments were largely (perhaps purposefully) forgotten, but an academic from the University of Guelph published a recent paper detailing the events.

Around 1,000 indigenous children at boarding schools, which were administered by the state and church, also fell victim to similar tests.

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I find myself bewildered by the callousness of this behavior. I wonder about the long-term effects these experiments had on individuals and families,  and about their multi-generational impacts on communities. I am reminded that one of the effects of such behavior is to assure many Native people continue to feel unsafe. It is easy for clinicians from the dominant culture to underestimate the trauma caused by generations of overt and covert acts of genocide. Yet the impacts are present and, often, profound, even for persons of mixed heritage.

I am also aware these revelations pose profound moral questions for the dominant culture. I wonder how we, collectively, are to view and address actions that, following the Nuremberg Tribunals, are internationally recognized as genocidal. How are we to understand and respond to actions that took place generations ago, yet impact the present?

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16 thoughts on “The Lasting Effects of Harm

  1. thanks for writing about this Michael. yesterday i took part in a national day of prayer here on algonquin unceded territory now known as canada’s capital city, ottawa. yesterday there was gatherings across canada to bring awareness and also urging the government to bring forward the documents about this insidious “research” pet projects. here’s the facebook page… https://www.facebook.com/events/1394657634086596/
    take care. and hope you enjoy a wonderful weekend.

    • Vera, I take hope there is a larger movement to address this issue. I wonder how the Harper government will respond, given their track record to date. In a larger frame, I wonder how Canadians as a society will respond. I am hoping, and holding the possibility, that this issue will finally open the floodgates to meaningful change.

      • i am also hoping for meaningful change although the main response to the “apology” is that there is no responsibility taken by the harper government once the apology was said especially now that these “research” methodologies have been uncovered. and there’s more coming. today i saw a post about TB vaccinations and trials at the residential schools too. the thing is that there’s always been experiments done in so many institutions. when children are involved it’s even more insidious.

      • Vera,

        We will see what revelations come, and how folks respond to them. Ultimately, the people will decide what should be done. The breadth and depth of the harm is truly staggering. What else is one to call it but “genocide”?

      • Vera, I am left wondering what drives people to have so very little empathy. I am also reminded of the Nazi use of children in “medical research” in the camps. We live in challenging times. Sad indeed.

  2. It is sad, to say the least, and not limited to such dramatic behaviors. I believe the solution lies in current and future choices, beginning with refusing to label. I hate that we refer to humans from such magnificent cultures as “natives” or “native Americans,” as if they had been labeled “American” before white folks even named this continent. This alone is revealing and taints how we relate. You can’t mistreat an equal. We must start thinking on these terms.

    • Thank you. I think about these things a lot.
      It seems to me labels can be troublesome. Yet they are useful. We call ourselves Native Americans, or more often, Indians. We do so to acknowledge our ancestors and our cultures. Those of us of Mixed Descent often name the complexity of our lineages.It is good to take pride in one’s people, just not to use our heritages to steal and culture from others. My ancestors, from both the New and Old worlds, fell in love and found ways to live in complex, heartbreaking times. Perhaps yours did as well.That courage begs to be acknowledged.

      Maybe the problem is the racism that often goes with namings.

  3. I think it’s process, Michael. What I mean to say is that when people submit blindly to the culture of an entity (corporation, government, religion) they become the mindless hands through which that entity affects the physical world.

    Having come of age in a society that largely views indigenous peoples as inferior beings, the very sad truth is that some these scientists may, in fact, have believed they were doing this for the greater good of humanity.

    The very root of this issue lies in whatever it is in Western Culture that pushes it in the direction of Corporate Entity, Manifest Destiny, unfettered Capitalism, and thinly-veiled Fascism.

    We have, as a culture, by and large, a chip on our shoulder. Our “history” tells us that we were a persecuted people, and that we burst the imposed bonds of religious and social intolerance to carve out a place where all “MEN” (that is white, monied slave owners) might be free to worship and live as they choose…and DAMMIT, WE’RE GONNA PROVE THAT if we have to kill everyone who disagrees with us.

    We’re like the dysfunctional child who, having seen his father beat his mother countless times, goes on to do the same thing to his own wife. And yet, at the same time, we feel that we’re acting out of love of our Country, and our fellow citizens.

    Willing submission to anything is fundamentalism. And fundamentalism accomplishes nothing if not putting blinders on those who adopt it, while convincing them that their vision has become clearer. . .

    • Ben, I imagine that for many people the harm done to Native people is ancient history, and therefore outside consideration. I suspect guilt is more of a blinder than anything else, although I am far from certain about that. Of course, the harm is ongoing and serves the purposes of those with great wealth and power. We shall see how all this turns out.

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