THE SAYISI DENE STORY

Perhaps the least known of all of Manitoba’s Indigenous peoples, the Sayisi Dene have a story to tell. Florence’s people were once nomadic, following the barren-land caribou across Canada’s north at a time before lines were drawn as Manitoba, Nunavut, and Saskatchewan. These Chipewyan peoples, a Dene group, living in northern Manitoba, eventually established a semi-permanent encampment at Little Duck Lake, before their lives would be irrevocably changed for the worse.

In 1956, the federal government forcibly relocated the Sayisi Dene of Little Duck Lake to barren land outside Churchill, wrongfully citing their overharvest of the caribou population as the reason. Within 20 years, 117 of the more than 250 people who were moved had died. The relocation is viewed as one of the most grievous errors committed by the federal government. A formal apology and some compensation was given in 2016 but the grievous damage to a once proud people was done.

While working for Parks Canada in Churchill, Florence often shared the story of her ancestors with visitors. She received a positive reception and that encouraged her to delve deeper into her own history. “It felt like my ancestors were speaking to me,” she said, adding it’s important for all Churchill visitors to at least begin to understand the contributions of the Dene, the Metis, the Inuit, and the Cree peoples of the region.

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