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Sayisi Dene demand apology in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — When Thomas Duck was 19, he and more than 250 people from his Sayisi Dene band were forcibly moved from their home at Little Duck Lake to the outskirts of Churchill.

Today, Duck stood at a podium on Parliament Hill and demanded the federal government admit what it did was wrong.

"My name is Thomas Duck and I am 73 years old," he said with the help of a translator. "I’m here to ask the Canadian government to acknowledge and to help my grandchildren."

The Sayisi Dene is the only First Nation identified in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples for being relocated that has yet to have its claim acknowledged and compensated. 

The Sayisi Dene filed a claim 14 years ago.

Sayisi Dene Chief Jim Thorassie wrote to Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan last week asking for a meeting.

"We have watched with hopeful anticipation as many other communities have received formal apologies from the government for the wrongs they have suffered," he wrote.

Now, the Sayisi Dene want their turn.

In 1956, the federal and provincial governments were convinced the band was killing off the caribou population in northern Manitoba. The governments forced the Sayisi Dene to leave their homes. So began a descent into poverty.

The new settlement on the outskirts of Churchill was barren. They lived in tiny shacks with no running water or electricity built on an old graveyard. The traditional hunting and gathering that had sustained the band was lost.

Children foraged for food at the Churchill dump. Substance abuse and violence ran rampant.

More than one-third of the population died during the 17 years the band lived in the Churchill settlement.

In 1973, most moved to Tadoule Lake where the band exists today.

Ila Bussidor, who was a year old when the band was relocated, wrote a book about the experiences in 2006.

Today, she said the impact on her people is still felt today. "There has to be an answer as to why this happened."

So far, there's been no government response to the request for a meeting.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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