Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaqs recall hunger at residential school


Woman unknowingly part of government experiment

Abuse at Shubenacadie Residential School

9 years ago
Duration 2:16
Mi'kmaq leaders seek apology for nutrition experiments

Mi’kmaq students who went hungry at a Nova Scotia residential school say they’re not surprised to learn they were part of a federal experiment.

First Nations leaders across the country are demanding an apology from the federal government after it was revealed that Canada ran nutritional experiments on malnourished aboriginal children and adults during and after the Second World War.

Recently published research by Canadian food historian Ian Mosby has revealed that at least 1,300 aboriginal people — most of them children — were used as test subjects in the 1940s and '50s by researchers looking at the effectiveness of vitamin supplements.

The research began in 1942 on about 300 Cree in Norway House in northern Manitoba. Plans were later developed for research on about 1,000 hungry aboriginal children in six residential schools in Port Alberni, B.C., Kenora, Ont., Shubenacadie, N.S., and Lethbridge, Alta.

Rotten food

Marie Doyle was eight years old when she was sent to Shubenacadie residential school in the early 1940s. She wasn't aware of the experiments, but she remembers being hungry. The food they did get was often rotten.

"We'd have a plate of food and if we didn't like it and threw up, they'd make us eat it anyway. And that was sickening," she said Thursday at her Indian Brook home.

She also remembers cruel games nuns played with food. Instead of passing out apples, they'd throw them at the children.

"If you're big enough, you'd catch one. But us smaller ones didn't get nothing," she said.

Doyle, who's now 80, said that hunger is just one of the haunting memories from her six years at the school.

"Even when I go to bed, I can't put the light off. I got to have my light on every night. Then I start thinking back to the school."

'I was always hungry'

Bernard Knockwood lived at the Shubenacadie school in the 1960s. The experiments had officially ended by then but he still remembers going without food.

"You're shocked at the beginning but then it's not too surprising because if you look at the times it's taken place, sympathy towards Indian people was not at its highest," he said.

"When I went to the residential school I was always hungry."