Wednesday, July 17, 2013

All The World's a Laboratory

Source: Maclean's Magazine: http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/07/16/hungry-aboriginal-kids-adults-were-subject-of-nutritional-experiments-paper/

When I woke up this morning, I had intended to talk a bit more about the news that the PMO is actively withholding emails from the RCMP over Duffy-Wright, but I think this is a big issue we need to talk about.

A story has come out which documents that during the 1940s, government researchers exploited Aboriginals across Canada in order to research nutrition. Effectively, government researchers saw already hungry and impoverished communities and saw the perfect chance to test out vitamins and other supplements and the effects they have on the body.

What makes this especially horrendous, is that the bulk of these experiments were conducted on children.

Much like the Tuskegee Experiments in the US, participants in these experiments were not aware of the fact they were being experimented on and these government researchers seemed to have come under the guise of being helpful to the community's ills. And while some may argue that it's not as ethically dubious as Tuskegee was; due to the fact that no one was being exposed and untreated to a crippling disease, that does not make it any more right or morally acceptable.

In the end, it seems as though the experiments produced little active results of note, which helps explains how this was kept from Canadians for decades, but there does seem to be one common thread with today that should depress and shame us all: the root cause of the problems that beset malnutrition and other ills in these communities was underfunding.

Today, the story is no different.

It has been only months since a report showing that 50% of Aboriginal youth in Canada live in poverty; and that number becomes a staggering 64% when looking solely at Saskatchewan. That is compared to the non-Indigenous youth poverty rate of 16%; a considerably lower number. (Source: CBC News http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/story/2013/06/18/f-poverty-first-nations-indigenous-report.html)

Add to that information that continually reminds us that Aboriginal primary and secondary students are consistently being underfunded compared to their non-Aboriginal counterparts; and you begin to see just how far we haven't come as a nation.

The problems noted fifty years ago by researchers continue to impact Aboriginal communities across the county today. 

The truly sad thing, however, is the backlash that is sure to follow this kind of discovery. It hasn't happened yet, but there will be the cries from the usual circles of how the lack of progress falls directly onto the Aboriginal population themselves. It is those kinds of shortsighted, narrow minded, and utterly uninformed comments that continue to allow these economic problems to persist. 

Actions taken in the past affect the outcomes of today, they do not exist in some kind of self contained bubble; as such, the actions committed by our ancestors cause lasting effects to this day. Non-Aboriginal Canadians played a role in establishing the Aboriginal society of today by exploiting, marginalizing, and abusing the Aboriginal societies of the past. 

And while some truly callous people will try and suggest that the past has no effect on today, why not go to a courtroom and listen to legal precedents...Or give the Charter of Rights & Freedoms a glance and see how a document from the 1980s has no bearing on today.

You'll have to forgive the sarcasm on the last one, but I think it brings home the point. What is truly important to understand is that actions matter; and right now, we are expecting the world to move forward and improve for Aboriginal Canadians without doing anything to help them. We're passing on the same broken system to the next generation, who if our track record for the last century says anything, will beget that system to the next generation and the next.

We helped create this system, we helped break it, and we have a responsibility to work with Aboriginal leaders to fix it. Another key phrase there: work with. We cannot dictate to Aboriginals across Canada, we have to work with them in equal partnership to address the issues that are facing them across the country.

The way forward is moving together, not separately, towards the common goal of improving the living standards of Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals across Canada. What it truly comes down to is this fundamental idea: it is not about trying to elevate one culture, or society or race above another; it is about trying to ensure equality. 

Part of that means ensuring that every child in Canada has a roof over their head, food in their stomach, and the opportunity to learn. Notice that that doesn't say every Aboriginal child, it says every child. We are not trying to give an unfair advantage to one side, because there are no sides in this debate. When it comes down to it there are two commonalities that should mean more to us than Aboriginal or Non-Aboriginal: we're both Canadian and more importantly, we're both human beings.

It's time we started treating each other as such.

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