WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government today apologized for its role in the forced relocation of the Sayisi Dene in the 1950s.
The relocation, now considered an abject failure, saw hundreds of people moved to Churchill from their traditional home in northern Manitoba.
The apology was made at a ceremony today in Churchill by Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson to Sayisi Dene Chief Jimmy Thorassie and Churchill Mayor Michael Spence.
The event comes on the eve of a meeting in Churchill between Canada’s premiers and aboriginal leaders. The premiers then travel to Winnipeg for two days of meetings at the Hotel Fort Garry.
In a release, the province said the decision to relocate the Dene community at Duck Lake prior to 1956 was made in part due to reports from Manitoba wildlife officials who believed the traditional hunting practices of the Dene were contributing to a perceived decline of area caribou herds.
After the relocation it was determined there was no crisis and the caribou herd which the Sayisi Dene had relied upon for generations was in fact healthy.
Subsequent Manitoba decisions further compounded the suffering of the Dene living in deplorable conditions near Churchill until community members relocated to Tadoule Lake in 1973.
In less than two decades, nearly one-third of the Sayisi Dene had died as a result of violence, poverty and racism experienced on the outskirts of Churchill.
Manitoba has proposed to provide more than 13,000 acres of Crown land, separate from any treaty land entitlement, to help address the effects of the relocation.
The forced relocation of the Sayisi Dene was documented in the reports of both the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of 1991 and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples of 1996. An apology and compensation were recommended