Report says hydro development in northern Manitoba led to sexual abuse

Hydro lines. Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press

The Manitoba government is asking the RCMP to investigate accusations that hydro development in northern Manitoba decades ago led to sexual abuse of Indigenous women.

The allegations are contained in a report from the province’s arm’s-length Clean Environment Commission, which held hearings earlier this year on the effects of energy development.

The report says the arrival of a largely male workforce in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s led to the sexual abuse of women from the Fox Lake Cree Nation.

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It says people told the hearings they witnessed rapes and that sometimes the RCMP failed to take complaints seriously.

“Indigenous people living in the community found themselves categorized as squatters,” the report states.

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“Their homes were destroyed to make way for trailer courts and homes of senior Hydro officials. Local game and fish were dramatically reduced by Hydro workers engaged in recreational hunting and fishing.

“People felt marginalized and discriminated against: they recalled being termed ‘dirty Indians’ and ‘wagon burners’ at school.”

Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires, who calls the allegations disturbing, says she is referring the issue to the RCMP for a fresh look.

“These allegations are stemming back decades,” Squires told CJOB Tuesday afternoon. “We are heartbroken.”

There is no statute of limitations on many of the allegations, said Squires.

When asked about sending the allegations to the RCMP, who are named in the report as part of the problem, Squires said there are several options.

“We’ve got a steering committee comprised of Manitoba Hydro, as well as members of my department at Sustainable Development to be working forward in an expeditious manner to ensure … that we don’t see this occurring.”

A Manitoba Hydro spokesperson said they take the allegations seriously and will fully co-operate with any and all investigations.

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The report also details harmful environmental effects of hydro development in several northern communities and recommends more sustainable watershed planning.

With files from Brittany Greenslade and The Canadian Press

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