OTTAWA, August 16, 2016 /CNW/ - Sixty years after a devastating forced relocation by the federal government, the Sayisi Dene in northern Manitoba today received a formal apology and compensation for the incident. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) today honours the Sayisi Dene for their strength, resilience and determination in achieving this first formal acknowledgement from the federal government.
"We know that no apology or compensation can ever fully address the terrible hardship and loss of life inflicted on the Sayisi Dene, but we hope today's events are a step towards healing," said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. "You cannot achieve reconciliation without truth. That's why this apology is important. 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. I lift up the Sayisi Dene for their resilience over many years and honour them on this achievement."
In 1956, the Sayisi Dene were based around Duck Lake in Manitoba's far northern region. The province decided, against all evidence, that they were a threat to the caribou herds and the federal government relocated the Sayisi Dene 200 kilometres east, near Hudson Bay, on barren arctic tundra. They were promised employment and housing but neither was ever provided and the people were forced to scavenge, often at a nearby dump, for scraps of food and supplies. The government moved them again a few years later to a location called Dene Village where there was housing but no heat, electricity or running water. The relocations were devastating to the Sayisi Dene, causing loss of life, social and cultural breakdown, starvation and poverty.
AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart said, "We all must acknowledge the truth of Canada's history of forced relocations if we are to advance reconciliation. The Sayisi Dene leadership and citizens have worked hard to reach this day and have approved the terms of compensation, including the apology. I stand with them in their decision. This is long overdue, but today is a day for all of us to commit ourselves to achieving justice and reconciliation."
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides in Article 10:
Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.
The Declaration recognizes many other rights of Indigenous peoples respecting their lands.
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, is travelling today to Sayisi Dene communities at Tadoule Lake and Churchill, Manitoba, accompanied by First Nations leaders, to deliver apologies and meet with Elders, youth and citizens. A third event takes place Wednesday in Winnipeg at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nation citizens in Canada. Follow AFN on Twitter @AFN_Comms, @AFN_Updates.
SOURCE Assembly of First Nations
For further information: Alain Garon, AFN Bilingual Communications Officer, 613-241-6789 ext. 382, 613-292-0857 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org; Jenn Jefferys, AFN Communications Officer, 613-241-6789 ext. 110, 613-222-9656 (cell), email@example.com