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This article was published 12/1/2015 (1707 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Children at the Brandon Indian Residential School were test subjects of extra-sensory-perception experiments during the Second World War, states a science journal recovered from a university archive.
The article, ESP Tests with American Indian Children published in the Journal of Parapsychology, is believed to be the first hard evidence science experiments were conducted on residential school children in Manitoba.
It was published in 1943 by a scientist named A.A. Foster, and its existence adds to a growing body of knowledge to show science experiments were regularly conducted in the 1940s and 1950s on children at residential schools, with the permission of federal officials.
Canada's expert on such studies, McMaster University post-doctoral research fellow Ian Mosby, said by phone from Hamilton he's reviewed the article. Maeengan Linklater, the Winnipegger who stumbled across a reference to the study in a footnote and got a copy, forwarded it to him, Mosby said Sunday.
It's significant because it shows how vulnerable Indian residential school children were to administrators, teachers and scientists, Mosby said.
"When it came to science experiments, these students had no choice whether it involved experiments on ESP or nutrition," he said. "It makes you ask the question what experiments were done in these schools? What were the conditions that made it possible for scientists to walk in and do these experiments? The children were wards of the state," Mosby said.
Mosby exposed alarming evidence of experiments in his 2013 research findings. News reports described them as noting children at Indian residential schools were deliberately starved in the 1940s and 1950s in the name of science.
Their exposure outraged Canadians and indigenous experts and later played a role in a decision by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to go to court to extract tons of federal residential school records held by the federal government.
Among those discoveries were that milk rations were halved for years at schools across the country, and essential vitamins were withheld. At the Cecilia Jeffrey school in Kenora, students were subject to test trials of TB vaccine as well as a series of experimental antibiotics for ear infections: Some students subsequently lost their hearing, according to one news report, Mosby said.
"They had no control over most of the aspects of their lives and their parents had no choice (either). They were forced to assume school administrators were acting in the best interest of their children, which we well know they weren't," Mosby said.
All of that was profoundly disturbing; what happened in Brandon is simply bizarre, Mosby said.
Fifty students at the Brandon school — approximately one-third of the student body — were selected for a slate of ESP experiments in the winter of 1940-41.
They included boys and girls ranging from the ages of six to 20. Younger students were given candy, older ones took part out of "curiosity, interest or as a personal favour" to the matron of the school, who conducted tests for the scientist who published the study.
Students were led through a total of 250 trials involving playing cards, the results of which purported to indicate the presence of ESP. "It may be said that at least one group of American Indian children have given scores in ESP card tests that are ascribable only to the ability known as extra-sensory perception," the study concluded.
It went on to boast, "The fact that the subjects are of the American Indian race is of special interest, since this is the first report of ESP tests given to members of that racial group."
Mosby and Linklater said that finding is disturbing for many reasons, not the least of which are the racial assumptions prevalent in that era.
"I'm not an expert on ESP, but it seems to me the study was reaching to make some kind of connection between (indigenous) spirituality and ESP.
"That there could be some sort of proclivity to ESP is really problematic," Mosby said.
The best that can be said is the Brandon study didn't set out to hurt anyone.
"It's definitely not nearly as disturbing as the other studies. There was no real harm to the students, and it wasn't premised on causing harm but like those other studies, it highlights the vulnerability of residential school students to the whims of administrators and teachers,'' Mosby said.
"The main thing that occurred to me when it came to ESP experiments was how bizarre it was, even for that time (period)," Mosby said.
Little is known about the study's author. The accompanying standard abstract merely described Foster as a former staff member at Duke University at the parapsychology lab. He'd moved on to Toronto for work related to the Second World War when this study was conducted.
The Winnipegger who found the study said it raises troubling questions for him on personal and professional levels.
Both his parents attended residential schools. "I see the effects today with all the social challenges indigenous people face," said Linklater, a longtime volunteer on community service boards in the city.
He stumbled across a reference to the study in a 1997 copy of Manitoba Mysteries by fellow guild writer and UFO researcher Chris Rutkowski.
A librarian found a copy archived at the University of Regina and Linklater got it last week.
"In my opinion, it dehumanized the students and it spoke to the control that the administrators had over the students (that) they could offer them up to a research study. The language of the article provides insight into their attitudes, in which we were monocultured and lived in primitive conditions."
The study casually described the Brandon students in language that would be condemned today:
"The western Canadian plains Indian leads a much more primitive life than the Indians of the United States... hunting, fishing and trapping. Many of the children had (known) the most primitive life (and) had never seen trains or motor cars."
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.
Updated on Monday, January 12, 2015 at 12:12 PM CST: Corrects that "At the Cecilia Jeffrey school in Kenora, students were subject to test trials of TB vaccine as well as a series of experimental antibiotics for ear infections: Some students subsequently lost their hearing, according to one news report, Mosby said."