Manitoba

MMIWG report calls for public inquiry into allegations of racism, sexual assault by Manitoba Hydro workers

The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls says Manitoba needs to look much deeper at the impact of its hydroelectric projects — not behind closed doors, but through a public inquiry.
A report last year cited allegations of years of sexual abuse at hydro projects in northern Manitoba, such as the Keeyask site. The MMIWG commission says in its report it supports calls for a public inquiry into the allegations. (Manitoba Hydro)

The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls says Manitoba needs to look much deeper at the impact of its hydroelectric projects — not behind closed doors, but through a public inquiry.

"At a minimum, we support the call of Indigenous women and leaders for a public inquiry into the sexual violence and racism at hydroelectric projects in northern Manitoba," the report says.

The MMIWG report, officially released Monday, makes 231 recommendations, referred to in the report as "calls for justice."

Among those is the recommendation that all governments across Canada fund work to "better understand the relationship between resource extraction and other development projects and violence against Indigenous women, girls, and [two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual] people."

But it specifically calls for a public inquiry in Manitoba, where allegations have surfaced of decades of sexual abuse and racism at hydro projects in Manitoba's north.

The province's Clean Environment Commission released a scathing report last August  detailing some of those allegations. The review prompted several northern First Nations to call for an inquiry.

Nancy Beardy, a member of Fox Lake Cree Nation, says Manitoba Hydro workers sexually assaulted her and a friend more than 50 years ago.

Nancy Beardy says 'it's about time' Manitoba hold a public inquiry into allegations of sexual assaults at northern hydro projects. (Nancy Beardy/Facebook)

"It's about time" for a public inquiry, the 65-year-old grandmother said. The environmental damage and dislocation of Indigenous people caused by Manitoba Hydro projects pales in comparison to the personal damage its workers caused, she told CBC News.

"This is nothing compared to what happened to me and other ladies," she said. "They got sexually abused, and no one was hearing me when I say this."

Four thousand hydro workers worked around Fox Lake, about 700 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, in the 1960s.

Beardy says the assault she suffered produced a lifetime of anxiety and depression.

"I cry all of a sudden — especially when that thing, that subject, came out again [when the CEC report was published]. I've been by myself ever since then. I feel like I am angry at the same time," Beardy said.

'It can't be ignored anymore'

Still, Beardy says she'd welcome a public inquiry — and she is not alone.

York Factory First Nation member Martina Saunders was a vice-president of the board of directors for the Keeyask Hydro Power Partnership from 2014 until she resigned in 2017.

Saunders says she left because she was bullied by Hydro executives after raising issues of racism and discrimination.

She has filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and believes a public inquiry into Hydro's relationship with Indigenous people across the province is critical.

Martina Saunders also supports calls for a public inquiry. 'Nobody has really listened before,' she says. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

"I definitely think that there should be a public inquiry to examine those issues of racism, discrimination, sexual violence in the north, because of the historical and ongoing relationship with hydro development and Indigenous women in northern Manitoba," Saunders told CBC News after the release of the MMIWG report.

She cautions that any inquiry must come with support for witnesses before they testify. 

"There needs to be proper resources in place to help deal with examining this issue closer, because it can't be ignored anymore. It's our historical relationship and nobody has really listened before," Saunders said.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says his government is still looking through the entire MMIWG commission's report and has not decided if a public inquiry will be called.

"I've got to review the report, so I'm not going to jump in and … cherry-pick various recommendations at this point," he told reporters at a press conference Tuesday.

"I'm certainly aware of the history with respect to some of the hydro projects."

Pallister says his government has been "bold" in its relationship with Indigenous groups and individuals, and has made numerous changes in health, justice and child and family services during its first term in office.

The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls says Manitoba needs to look much deeper at the impact of its hydroelectric projects — not behind closed doors, but through a public inquiry. 1:46