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Following revelations that some of the hungry children who attended aboriginal residential schools were subjected to nutrition experiments, First Nations across Canada are calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honour the apology he made to the inmates of those schools five years ago.
Demonstrations by native groups are taking place in a number of regions on Thursday to demand that the Conservative government release the millions of documents housed in government archives that relate to the residential schools.
The government promised seven years ago to turn the documents over to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was created as a part of the settlement with school survivors. But the commission had to obtain a court ruling last year demanding that Ottawa live up to that commitment. And even after that ruling, the material has been slow to arrive.
Recent reports that the federal government made a conscious decision to deny food to hungry children who attended the residential schools in five provinces and instead use them as guinea pigs in a nutritional science study has prompted many native leaders to ask what is contained in the documents that are being withheld.
"We acknowledge today, as well, those who were the unwilling and unknowing subjects of horrendous biomedical experiments that took place in those schools," Shawn Atleo, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Thursday in a statement.
"Today, we raise our voices and call for the government of Canada to fully honour its apology to the survivors of the residential schools," said Mr. Atleo, "to release all documents related to this sad chapter in our shared history and to give life to the words that were spoken by the Prime Minister on that important day."
In June 2008, Mr. Harper apologized to the former students on behalf of Canada saying the country failed to protect them and "we now recognize that, far too often, these institutions gave rise to abuse or neglect and were inadequately controlled." But the chapter of Canadian history is far from closed.
On Thursday, the grassroots First Nations movement called Idle No More released a list of summer events that begins with Honour the Apology demonstrations and then turns to protests against resource development that could have negative environmental ramifications.
"The target of Idle No More's Sovereignty Summer campaign is obviously the Harper government," said Clayton Thomas-Muller, a spokesman for the movement. "But I think the undertone is the complete hijacking of the Harper government by corporate interests."
Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of resource developments including the Alberta oil sands and the pipelines that will be used to transport the crude to international markets, said Mr. Thomas-Muller. And Idle No More was founded, in large part, as a backlash against omnibus bills that gutted environmental legislation.
"The private sector has a duty to consult and accommodate (First Nations) at the beginning, at the inception, of any kind of idea that's going to impact our land, air and water," he said.
As for the Honour The Apology events, Mr. Thomas-Muller said the nutrition experiments are concrete evidence that the government of Canada knowingly supported research "that was possible through an act of genocide against their own domestic citizens."
When the government withholds documents related to the schools, he said, "we know that the situation must be even worse" that previously thought.
Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard, said the government understands the horrific nature of the nutrition experiments.
"These are abhorrent examples of the dark pages of the residential schools legacy," Mr. MacDonald said in an e-mail. "The Prime Minister's historic apology recognized that the Indian Residential Schools policy is a dark chapter in Canada's history. That is why we must continue the important work of reconciliation. We have turned over 900 documents related to this to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
Gloria Galloway is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.