Manitoba

Indigenous families facing eviction ask feds to intervene

A group of 18 families facing eviction from Manitoba Housing want Canada's minister of indigenous and northern affairs to intervene.

Residents to be evicted from Manitoba Housing following long-running rent dispute

Residents facing eviction told CBC News they don't know where they will go once Manitoba Housing kicks them out of their homes. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

A group of 18 families facing eviction from Manitoba Housing want Canada's minister of indigenous and northern affairs to intervene.

The families, who have been living rent-free in social housing in Portage la Prairie, Man., since 1996, have been given notices from Manitoba sheriffs saying they will be evicted from their homes at 11 a.m. CT on Monday.

"We're going to be homeless without no place to stay," said Donna Gabriel, a resident facing eviction who is calling on Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett to step in.

"They gotta recognize the injustice," said Gabriel, the spokesperson for the group.

Residents said they felt uneasy as 11 a.m. came and went and no sheriffs showed up to evict them or change the locks.

"I was expecting them but I wasn't going to leave. Where am I going to go? They are going to have to literally carry me out if they want me to leave," said Judy Dorion, who has been living there since 1996.

A group of 18 families facing eviction from Manitoba Housing want Canada's minister of indigenous and northern affairs to intervene. 1:45

The province delivered eviction notices to residents last week as part of a move that would end a long-running rent dispute that's seen the families live in the government housing free of charge. For Gabriel, thinking about the eviction brings back memories from 1996.

"We were dispossessed of our land and removed," after they found themselves on the wrong side of their First Nation's leadership that year, she said.

The residents say they were forced from the Waterhen First Nation after an uprising in the community. Now they're owed a permanent new place to live that was promised to them by the federal and provincial governments, they say.

The tenants stopped paying rent to protest a broken promise by the two levels of government to give them a new home, Gabriel said.

Judy Dorion has said sheriffs will have to carry her from her home. (Jules Runne/CBC)

85-year-old faces eviction

Alphonse Catcheway said he'll leave peacefully when sheriffs arrive at his home, but the 85-year-old doesn't know where he'll go.

"Maybe under the bridge by the river," he said on Sunday night.

A spokesperson for Bennett said Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada is aware of the situation, but the department isn't involved in the dispute.

Sabrina Williams said the government doesn't provide off-reserve housing and is encouraging the tenants to work with Manitoba Housing to find a solution.

The families, who have been living rent-free in social housing in Portage la Prairie, Man., since 1996, have signs up on on their homes. (Jules Runne/CBC)

The province let the Waterhen people live in the housing rent-free until 2010.

That year, the government unsuccessfully tried to reach a deal that would have seen unpaid rent forgiven if tenants started to pay, said Andrea Slobodian, press secretary to Manitoba Families Minister Scott Fielding.

After officials failed to make a deal, the province started a lengthy court battle that ended with a Court of Appeal judge ruling this summer in the government's favour.

Waterhen First Nation is now called Skownan First Nation. It's about 290 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

Residents are likening the eviction to when they were forced from their First Nation in 1996. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

The uprising in the community triggered a blockade against then-chief Harvey Nepinak by band members who alleged he was corrupt and demanded their own reserve.

The chief's home was burned to the ground, and after a standoff that lasted more than three weeks, protesters were charged. The case then went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ordered new trials.

RCMP officers took control of the Waterhen Reserve where Natives sought shelter. Protesters were demanding their own reserve, saying the band chief was corrupt. The CBC's Reg Sherren reports in this 1996 TV story. 1:30

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