Night Spirits
The Story of the Relocation of the Sayisi Dene


Cover image (Night Spirits)

For over 1500 years, the Sayisi Dene, 'The Dene from the East', led an independent life, following the caribou herds and having little contact with white society. In 1956, an arbitrary government decision to relocate them catapulted the Sayisi Dene into the 20th century. It replaced their traditional nomadic life of hunting and fishing with a slum settlement on the outskirts of Churchill, Manitoba. Inadequately housed, without jobs, unfamiliar with the language or the culture, their independence and self-determination deteriorated into a tragic cycle of discrimination, poverty, alcoholism and violent death. By the early 1970s, the band realized they had to take their future into their own hands again. After searching for a suitable location, they set up a new community at Tadoule Lake, 250 miles north of Churchill. Today they run their own health, education and community programs. But the scars of the relocation will take years to heal, and Tadoule Lake is grappling with the problems of a people whose ties to the land, and to one another, have been tragically severed. In Night Spirits, the survivors, including those who were children at the time of the move, as well as the few remaining elders, recount their stories. They offer a stark and brutally honest account of the near-destruction of the Sayisi Dene, and their struggle to reclaim their lives. It is a dark story, told in hope.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Cover 1
Contents 8
Acknowledgements 10
Introduction (Üstün Bilgen-Reinart) 12
The Narrators of This Book 22
My Story (Ila Bussidor) 42
The Caribou and the People 48
The People from the East 50
Treaty Five 64
Duck Lake 68
"Preserved at all Costs" 78
The Relocation 82
Churchill 94
Camp-10 98
Alcohol Takes Over 110
Dene Village 126
Deaths 146
Return to the Land 160
Tadoule Lake 176
Appendix 185
Notes 187
Bibliography 190