A report designed to find “the truth” about one of the darkest chapters in Fort McMurray’s history is hoping to shine some new light on the situation.
The McMurray Métis released its findings into what truly happened at Moccasin Flats – an area that is now home to the Syncrude Towers – at Shell Place on Thursday.
The area had been the home for many Métis people since around 1870 – a location they used to ‘hunt, trap, fish, gather for subsistence,’ among other things.
The study titled “The Moccasin Flats Evictions: Métis Home, Forced Relocation, and Resilience” notes the municipality had plans on creating a sewer line in Moccasin Flats.
According to RMWB documents, eviction notices were issued in 1975 and again in 1977, however, seven families remained, including the Shott family.
The report highlights their story which notes their house was bulldozed in 1981.
Steve Shott, who was in attendance for the findings release, tells Mix News his dad received a call that people forcibly came into their house and was “dragging the family’s possessions out”.
He says his dad was arrested when police arrived.
“I remember, I was angry and I had to hold back – when you get angry like that you have no thought and it’s an eye for an eye thing.”
Shott says the family home was bulldozed, his dad was taken into police custody while the rest of the family was on a bus away from the area.
“I never got to see the bulldozing because I was retained to, I was told not to go down there or I would be arrested.”
After this, protests were held by local Indigenous people.
Eventually, all the homes in the area were demolished and the Syncrude Towers were built in its place.
Documents say some families were given mobile homes to live in.
“The Town offered trailers to 7 families on the road allowance,” the report read. “The Town made the relocated families sign away their rights to Moccasin Flats. The Town retained ownership of the land and trailers, so when the original occupants died or left, the municipality took back the property.”
The “town’s” belief on why the evictions happened in the first place is the sewer line.
The findings say another story – as “Syncrude and Northward Developments Ltd” had plans to “build a housing and retail complex for Syncrude.”
“Syncrude does understand and respect the desire of the McMurray Métis and others in our community around finding answers about the evictions,” said Leithan Slade, Spokesperson for Syncrude. “We plan to work with them to fully understand the report.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Don Scott says he’s looking forward to getting a chance to learn more about the findings.
“The municipality has cooperated fully with the researchers who prepared this report, in fact, a lot of documents they may have used for the report came from the municipality.”
Not the Only One
According to the report, Moccasin Flats wasn’t the only area ravaged by evictions.
Waterways, Cree Flats, and Short Street, an area where the downtown Boston Pizza is located, are just a few examples where Indigenous people were also evicted from their land.
The document notes the areas were cleared for various reasons – including trailers for Suncor employees and for an extension of Highway 63.
“In several of these examples, the town told the Métis and First Nation families that they needed to move to make way for some important infrastructure project. At Moccasin Flats it was a sewer line; at Boston Pizza, it was a highway expansion; at Tolen Drive, it was a creek diversion,” said the report.
The report also shows the areas being used for MacDonald Island Park and Peter Pond Mall were also being occupied by Indigenous people before being forced away from the land.
Multiple examples of ways to formally apologize and make amends to the Métis people were presented in the report.
This includes compensation to the affected families, a monument or cultural centre on the land, and cultural education.
President of the McMurray Métis Gail Gallupe says a verbal apology won’t be enough as they want to see a land transfer back to the Métis people.
“People would feel satisfaction if they actually had land to call their own, so that would be nice – it may not happen, however, with a lot of rights we have now there’s a high possibility that we’d be successful.”
She adds this situation is a wound that can be healed.
“It’s not a big ask, we’re not asking for a multi-billion dollar lawsuit or compensation – I think we can come to a win-win situation where everybody’s happy.”
Gallupe also mentioned the McMurray Métis have sent requests to Mayor Scott and Syncrude’s Managing Director Doreen Cole for a meeting to discuss possible negotiations.
“What I see happening next at that meeting is I’m going to be encouraging McMurray Métis to come to council and present a report because any decision that the municipality makes has to be a decision of council,” added Scott.
They’re hoping to meet before November 30.
Meanwhile, Gallupe says they’ve received a letter from Minister of Indigenous Affairs Richard Feehan stating the province has no interest in a public inquiry after this report.