Ten Other Things You Might Not Have Known About 20th-Century Aboriginal History in Canada


2013-07-17 10.53.17

Ian Mosby’s research on nutritional experiments on Aboriginal people in the 1940s and 1950s featured on cover of Toronto Star.

If there was a weekly prize for active historians in Canada, Ian Mosby would have been last week’s winner. Canadian national news media (including print, radio, television, and web) prominently featured Dr. Mosby’s recently published Histoire Sociale/Social History article, “Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942-1952.”

This paper originated from some documents Mosby found at Library and Archives Canada while working on his dissertation. He discovered evidence of a little-known federal government program of nutritional experiments on starving Aboriginal people. Nutrition scientists conducted a series of experiments on malnourished Aboriginal children and adults for a period between 1942 and 1952. The federal government did not seek informed consent from the more than 1,000 residential school children from provinces across the country who were unwittingly included in this biomedical research.

When news of the publication hit Twitter, national news media outlets quickly picked up on the story and profiled Mosby’s work in numerous publications and broadcasts. Here are a few examples:

As the story continued throughout the week, it prompted responses from several public commentators, including major newspaper editorials, the Manitoba’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and former Prime Minister, Paul Martin:

Unfortunately, this kind of public attention to historical scholarship is rare, in part, because scholarly journals are often inaccessible to the public. The recent notoriety of Ian Mosby’s work has raised the matter of open-access publishing for Canadian historians. Aside from those with institutional and personal subscriptions to such journals, the broader public beyond academia almost never learns about new historical research findings. Thankfully,the editors and publishers of Histoire Sociale/Social History heeded the suggestions of a handful of #Twitterstorians and released Mosby’s article as an open access publication (for a limited time). Given that the American Historical Association just recently made the controversial decision not to support open access for recently completed dissertations, this example of Mosby’s important research is hopefully a reminder that making historical scholarship broadly accessible can serve a greater public good while not undermining the professional interests of scholars.

Since there was so much public interest in twentieth-century history of Aboriginal people in Canada last week, I thought I would compile a list of ten open-access scholarly publications that provide insights into this history. Here are ten things you might not have known about the history of Aboriginal people in Canada in the twentieth century:

1. In the 1950s, the federal government relocated Inuit people to experimental colonies in the Arctic archipelago.

Alan R. Marcus. Out in the Cold: The Legacy of Canada’s Inuit Relocation Experiment in the High Arctic. Copenhagen: IWGIA, 1992. http://www.iwgia.org/publications/search-pubs?publication_id=155

2. In 1933, the National Research Council subjected Aboriginal children of the Qu’Appelle reserve in southern Saskatchewan to experimental trials of BCG vaccines for tuberculosis.

Maureen Lux. “Perfect Subjects: Race, Tuberculosis,and the Qu’Appelle BCG Vaccine Trial” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 15.2 (1998): 277-295. http://www.cbmh.ca/index.php/cbmh/article/view/407/406

3. Aboriginal people have fought for Canada in every overseas conflict in the twentieth century.

P. Whitney Lackenbauer with John Moses, R. Scott Sheffield, and Maxime Gohier. A Commemorative History of Aboriginal People in the Canadian Military Ottawa: National Defence. http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/pub/boo-bro/abo-aut/index-eng.asp

4. Throughout the entire twentieth century, Aboriginal people in British Columbia have organized politically for recognition of traditional land rights.

Paul Tennant. “Native Indian Political Organization in British Columbia, 1900-1969: A Response to Internal Colonialism” BC Studies 55 (1982): 3-49. http://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/bcstudies/article/view/1132/1176

5. From 1969 to 1971, the federal government conducted “Project Surname” a program to assign second names to Inuit people in the Northwest Territories who traditionally did not have surnames. Prior to this project, the government designated so-called disc numbers to Inuit people for identification and tracking purposes.

Valerie Alia, “Inuit Women and the Politics of Naming in Nunavut” Canadian Woman Studies 14.4 (1994): 11-14. https://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/cws/article/viewFile/9524/8641

6. From 1913 to 1931, all levels of government participated in the removal and erasure of nearly every Coast Salish village and Indian reserve in the City of Vancouver.

Jean Barman. “Erasing Indigenous Indigeneity in Vancouver” BC Studies 155 (2007): 3-30. http://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/bcstudies/article/view/626/669

7. In 1962, the British Columbia government agreed to end enforcing ethnic controls on alcohol sales in the Indian Act, which prohibited the sale of alcohol to Aboriginal people.

Robert A. Campbell. “A “Fantastic Rigmarole”: Deregulating Aboriginal Drinking in British Columbia, 1945-62″ BC Studies 141 (2004): 81-104. http://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/bcstudies/article/view/1705/1751

8. During the 1946-48 public inquiry on federal administration of Indian Affairs, the Indian Association of Alberta first argued that treaty rights should be the foundation for Aboriginal citizenship in Canada.

Laurie Meijer Drees. “Citizenship and Treaty Rights: The Indian Association of Alberta and the Canadian Indian Act” Great Plains Quarterly 20.2 (2000): 141-158. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/greatplainsquarterly/20/

9. In Ontario in the 1950s and 1960s, Noranda Mines operated a sulphuric acid plant on Serpent River First Nation territory that processed uranium from the nearby Elliot Lake mines. The detrimental environmental effects of sulphuric waste from the plant devastated the Aboriginal community in the years since the closure of the plant.

Lianne Leddy. “Interviewing Nookomis and Other Reflections: The Promise of Community Collaboration” Oral History Forum 30 (2010): 1-18. http://www.oralhistoryforum.ca/index.php/ohf/article/view/386/457

10. In 1922, Dr. Peter Bryce, Canada’s first chief medical health officer, published The Story of a National Crime, a book that outlined statistical evidence that Canada’s Aboriginal population was being destroyed by tuberculosis and the federal government had the means to stop it. The government ignored Bryce’s warnings and fired him for publishing reports on the tuberculosis crisis.

Adam J. Green. “Telling 1922’s Story of a National Crime: Canada’s First Chief Medical Health Officer and the Aborted Fight for Aboriginal Health Care” Journal of Native Studies 26.2 (2006): 211-228. http://www2.brandonu.ca/library/cjns/26.2/01green.pdf

If you have other open-access publications to recommend, please post the citations and links in the comments section below.

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