Sayisi Dene struggles documented in Manitoba historical photos

As the Canadian government offers a long-coming apology to northern Manitoba's Sayisi Dene, some clear images are available of the squalor faced by that community.

Inuit were given modern houses and appeared to be living well but Dene were simply dumped

As the Canadian government offers an apology to northern Manitoba Sayisi Dene 60 years after their forced relocation, some clear images show the squalor faced by the community.

In 1952, the Manitoba government decided the Dene were killing off too many caribou around Little Duck Lake and convinced the federal government to move the entire community away from its traditional hunting grounds.

From 1956 to 1962, Carl MacKenzie was the director of welfare for the northern part of Manitoba, stretching from The Pas to the Northwest Territories. He flew into communities for short visits once or twice a year.

One of his stops was Churchill, then a booming grain terminal and American military base. It was also home to the Sayisi Dene after the federal government uprooted them from their traditional lands.

The Sayisi Dene had been dumped on the tundra in an area known as The Flats. They had no resources, no housing and no money and were left to fend for themselves through Churchill's bitterly cold winters and bug-infested summers.

Community members built shelters using material from the nearby garbage dump and survived on food scraps.

The conditions faced by the Dene were documented by MacKenzie, who was shocked by the poverty and despair, his son Alan said.

On Tuesday, Carolyn Bennett, Canada's Indigenous and northern affairs minister, apologized to the Sayisi Dene, acknowledging they were abandoned without proper food, shelter or support following the relocation.

Along with the apology — another is being made in Winnipeg on Wednesday — the federal government is giving the community $33.6 million in compensation.

In 1973, the Sayisi Dene moved back to their Barren-ground Caribou-hunting life, establishing a new home in Tadoule Lake, 250 kilometres west of Churchill.

Many of the photos used in this story were previously published in the book Northern Manitoba 1957 – 1962, by Carl and Alan MacKenzie.