Northern chiefs called for an apology and laws against bullying by bureaucrats after a family living in Winnipeg for medical treatment faced a decade of trouble over welfare benefits and a social worker who told the mother of 11 "to shut her legs."
"When a social worker tells a mother on social assistance to 'shut her legs' because they have too many children, it is an outrage," said Grand Chief David Harper, leader of the northern Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO).
MKO represents 30 northern First Nations, including the remote Manito Sipi Cree in northeastern Manitoba where the family, including the mother, father and 11 children are band members. The community, 565 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has no hospital, no resident doctor and no road.
The mother's medical issues triggered the relocation a decade ago and since then the family has faced a series of calamities -- a car accident that temporarily left the dad, a labourer, in a wheelchair, the death of a grandchild and this fall, a cancer diagnosis of their 12-year-old son.
The way the family has been treated can't be anything but systemic discrimination, reporters were told.
Hydro and heat have been periodically shut off, rent payments delayed, and the boy with cancer and the dad in his wheelchair were both denied taxi slips for hospital trips.
"I was shocked," Manito Sipi Chief Michael Yellowback, who, along with a band councillor, was in Winnipeg for a press conference called by MKO.
"In today's age, our people are still subject to this... from a system where they are robbed of their dignity?" asked Yellowback. "It's something that needs to change."
The province issued a statement through a spokeswoman it's opened an investigation into the allegations against the employment income assistance workers on the family's case.
"Like all complaints about service at EIA offices, we are taking this very seriously and are following up. The complaint will be investigated by the department and appropriate actions taken to ensure participants are treated fairly and with respect," the spokeswoman said by email.