Manitoba

'Pure trauma': Fox Lake members stricken after hasty release of troubling report

The unexpected release of a report issued by the province detailing allegations of sexual abuse by Manitoba Hydro workers at a Manitoba First Nation in the 1960s has sent some traumatized members of the Fox Lake Cree Nation to hospital, its CEO says.

Report alleges Manitoba Hydro workers raped Indigenous women in the 1960s

A Manitoba Hydro spokesperson says two-day, "in-depth" Indigenous cultural awareness workshops are offered to workers. (CBC)

The unexpected release of a report issued by the province detailing allegations of sexual abuse by Manitoba Hydro workers at a Manitoba First Nation in the 1960s has sent some traumatized members of the Fox Lake Cree Nation to hospital, its CEO says.

"I think my first reaction was what are you talking about? I had no idea what people were asking me about and then when I did find out I was shocked that we, the community, had not been provided any advanced notice," Robert Wavey, CEO of Fox Lake Cree Nation, said Thursday afternoon.

"For a lot of them, it was just pure trauma again reliving their experiences, reliving the trauma that they went through during those horrific years."

On Tuesday, the Manitoba government released a May report from the Clean Environment Commission, which was tasked with studying the social impact of Hydro development on First Nations and the effects of 4,000 Manitoba Hydro workers descending on Fox Lake had in the 1960s. The community is located about 762 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Wavey says the report's sudden release has left members of the community stunned and for some, it's brought back memories they've never shared publicly. He says the government didn't give any notice the report was being released and the community had no time to prepare for its devastating impact.

The report cites testimony from community members who alleged construction workers in the community would get women inebriated and then take advantage of them. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The testimony from Fox Lake Cree Nation community members contains allegations of rape by Hydro workers and describes discrimination felt by members who recalled being termed "dirty Indians" and "wagon burners."

In the report, people spoke of witnessing rape and being unable to interfere, and the RCMP is accused of failing to take complaints seriously.

Police watchdog undecided on probe 

In the transcript, RCMP officers are accused of organizing "gangbangs" that are alleged to have occurred in the Town of Gillam.

"They would pick up Fox Lake women, take them to jail, and bring all of the Hydro guys there to do what they wanted with these young women," Franklin Arthurson, a community elder told the Clean Environment Commission.

Manitoba RCMP refused a request for an interview Thursday and instead sent a statement via email the force sent the day before.

"We have just received the transcript from the community meeting that was held with members of the Fox Lake Cree Nation on Jan. 19, 2018.

A spokesperson for Pallister said the premier expects his ministers to handle matters in their portfolios in response to a request the premier visit the Fox Lake Cree Nation. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

"The allegations within the transcript are troubling and require investigation. The RCMP continues to review the final report from the Clean Environment Commission as well as the hearing transcript and is in discussions with the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba," wrote Sgt. Paul Manaigre.

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, which investigates all serious allegations of police misconduct, would only say the RCMP have been in contact with it and it has not yet determined if it will probe the allegations.

Allegations were in draft 2010 report

Wavey also responded to a University of Manitoba professor who says Hydro has been aware of the allegations of for many years.

A series of hydro dams relative to the proximity of northern Manitoba First Nations. (CBC News Graphics)

Peter Kulchyski professor of native studies at the University of Manitoba, says a report completed on the social impacts of Hydro on the community of Gilliam for Fox Lake community members was "basically suppressed." 

Wavey says the decision was mutual by both the First Nation and Manitoba Hydro. "We were part of the primary reason why that document was suppressed," he said. 

First Nation didn't release report​

Wavey says the draft report, made sometime before 2010, contained extensive testimony from community members who alleged they were beaten, sexually abused and, as some put it bluntly, raped by Manitoba Hydro workers.

He says the First Nation didn't release it because of the content and because they were afraid boxes of the surveys would be made public when the band had promised community members they wouldn't share them with anyone.

He says Hydro staff didn't get to see them, and the report was watermarked as a draft about 400 pages long with appendices.

Calls for premier to visit community

Manitoba Hydro has said it takes the 50-year-old allegations seriously and will fully co-operate with any RCMP review.

Manitoba Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said her government takes the matter seriously and will be referring the report to the RCMP for investigation. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Fox Lake Chief Walter Spence said Wednesday he expects Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister to visit the community, not Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke, who the province says plans to visit the community. He said he wants more than a photo op. 

Crown Services Minister Colleen Mayer says Manitoba Hydro has taken significant steps to ensure this type of abuse does not happen again.

"Those actions were not acceptable then, and are not acceptable now," she said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Pallister says the premier expects his ministers to take the charge on matters in their portfolios, adding transcripts of community members' testimony have been on the Clean Environment Commission's website for quite some time.

With files from Sean Kavanagh

Corrections

  • We initially reported that Fox Lake Cree Nation CEO Robert Wavey said he expects Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister to visit the community, not Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke. In fact, Fox Lake Chief Walter Spence made those comments.
    Aug 24, 2018 10:19 AM CT

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca