TADOULE LAKE, Man. — The federal government has formally apologized and provided compensation for the forced relocation of a First Nations community in northern Manitoba 60 years ago.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett visited the Sayisi Dene on Tuesday to apologize for the 1956 move that led to hunger, violence and death.
"Without proper consultation, without explanation and without adequate planning, the federal government took your people from the land and the waters that sustained you," Bennett said in prepared remarks.
"The government of Canada did not provide proper food, shelter or support following the relocation. Decades later, we recognize that the impacts of the relocation were catastrophic."
Carolyn Bennett makes an announcement on Aug. 3, 2016. (Photo: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
About 250 Sayisi Dene were forced out of Duck Lake to a barren area near Churchill, partly because the Manitoba government believed they were causing a steep decline in the caribou herd — an idea later proven untrue.
In the new location, food was scarce and housing inadequate. The Dene were forced to scavenge the dump and were assaulted by Churchill residents.
About one-third of the relocated Dene died "as a result of poverty, racism and violence," the Manitoba government said in a 2010 apology for its role.
Chief Ernest Bussidor, who was born one month before the relocation said many have suffered post-traumatic stress.
"A lot of children died. That kind of stuff never leaves you."
"I probably witnessed a lot more tragic events than I should have ... and most of us of that generation have that same notion," Bussidor said Monday.
"A lot of children died. That kind of stuff never leaves you.
"People freezing to death, fires, you name it," Bussidor recalled.
In 1973, the Sayisi Dene moved back to their traditional territory at Tadoule Lake.
"It is unbearable to consider what you lost during the years in Churchill," Bennett said.
"No one, and no people, should have had to experience such treatment in Canadian society."
The federal apology comes with a $33.6-million settlement package, aimed partly at economic development, which was approved by the community three years ago. Bussidor said the money will help the community's youth, but seems a bit "hollow" given decades of suffering.
"This community was doing fine until the government forced them from their territory and then abandoned them."
"I'm an elder now. I'm 60 today, and 60 years it took for the government to step up and say that something was wrongfully done to your people."
National Chief Perry Bellegarde, with the Assembly of First Nations, said no apology or compensation can undo the suffering of the Sayisi Dene. But he said the apology is the first step toward healing.
"You cannot achieve reconciliation without truth. That's why this apology is important," he said in a statement. "It acknowledges the severe assault on their children, their families, their human rights and indigenous rights. This community was doing fine until the government forced them from their territory and then abandoned them."
Also on HuffPost