The Assembly of First Nations passed an emergency resolution yesterday condemning recently reported nutrition tests on unwitting and starving children in residential schools and First Nations communities.
The experiments, conducted in the 1940s and ‘50s, took advantage of hungry aboriginal children as unwitting subjects in order to test the effects of malnourishment. In some cases, food was deliberately withheld from students.
The resolution says the tests reflect a pattern of genocide by the Crown against aboriginal Canadians and calls on the federal government to turn all its records over to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission so that it can ensure victims are fairly compensated.
Ken Watts, of B.C.‘s Tseshaht First Nation, spoke to the resolution. Tseshaht is home to the infamous Alberni residential school, where some of the tests took place.
“I know we have people back home who are hurting, whose wounds have been reopened by this,” Watts said.
“I know Harper is going to say that ‘we apologized.’ But you didn’t apologize for testing our kids. These were just kids, they were human beings that deserved to be treated like human beings and they weren’t. The world needs to know that,” he said, choking back tears.
The entire assembly rose to its feet while Cliff Atleo, of B.C.‘s Ehattesaht First Nation drummed out a solemn chant as the resolution was passed.
In his closing remarks, AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo said he knows first hand what it’s like to struggle with the legacy of residential schools and Canada’s treatment of its indigenous people.
“I remember those emotions, feeling the same way many of you felt. My goodness, they were children. Does it not make sense then, to continue to press for … recourse and justice across the full spectrum of issues that we’ve laid out here,” Atleo said.
He invoked the legacy of Nelson Mandela’s fight to end apartheid.
“Today is the birthday of another man who had a voice, who had a vision. Today is Nelson Mandela’s birthday, and international Nelson Mandela Day,” he said.
Atleo said that Canada’s First Nations have their own strong leaders who have fought historic battles as well.
“Nelson Mandela is 95 years old, but to Alex Van Bibber, he’s still a young man,” Atleo said, giving a nod to the legendary outdoor educator.
The assembly passed 19 resolutions, including one calling for First Nations control over First Nations education.
The education resolution calls for First Nations to develop their own education strategies and legislation, and rejects the proposal for federal oversight of First Nations education.
The resolution was moved by Steve Miller, chief of Ontario’s Atikameksheng Anishnawbek.
Miller said that funding for education should be high enough to cover costs and ensure that First Nations children, to the extent possible, be able to attend school in their home communities.
Other resolutions included a commitment to support Yukon’s Ross River Dena Council in its opposition to free entry mining in its territory, advancing a national strategy to end violence against indigenous women and girls, and housing.
Thursday wrapped up a week of meetings and events in Whitehorse with over 200 First Nations chiefs and 1,000 delegates from across the country.
But the AFN is a bit of a fractured organization right now. While the meetings were held in Whitehorse, dissenting chiefs from Treaty No. 6 territory held their own meetings in Saskatchewan.
Six Nations Chief Bill Montour said that it’s time for the AFN to get rid of its provincial/territorial representatives and create a structure based on representatives from traditional indigenous nations instead.
“I move for a nation rebuilding and restructuring. Some member nations have begun to restructure themselves and wish to attend the general assembly as nations. The AFN should accommodate this move,” he said.
“I think it’s time we got out of this Indian Act style of meetings.” Montour said.
His motion was taken into consideration, but could not be passed as a resolution because it was not put forward according to procedure.
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