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Indigenous protesters march towards Canada’s parliament building in Ottawa, Jan. 11, 2013. | Photo: Reuters First Nations leaders are demanding apologies from the province and Manitoba Hydro for their response to allegations of sexual abuse and racism by workers.

Indigenous people have been the victim of racism and sexism connected to the hydroelectric plant in northern Manitoba, Canada, said the grand chief for the area Tuesday in comments that come two weeks after a review discovered abuse and violence dating back to the 1960s.

“Our people have been oppressed. Our people have been treated as if they are second-class citizens in their own lands,” said Garrison Settee, head of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, a non-profit political advocacy organization that represents 30 First Nation communities in Manitoba’s North.

Martina Sanders, an Indigenous woman joined Settee. Sanders has filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. She resigned last year from a board of directors whose responsibility it was to oversee construction of Manitoba Hydro’s Keeyask generator station. According to Sanders, she and other Indigenous members were bullied and ignored.

“I didn’t feel safe to voice my concerns or to speak up on behalf of my First Nation anymore, sitting at that board, so I had to step down,” says Sanders.

The Grand Chief, during a press conference in Winnipeg, described the report as “shocking”.

"But what is more shocking is that it almost took 40 years to address these injustices," he said. "We have known of these stories for a long time. We have been cognizant of these violations against our women but it is only now that it has come to light."

The report which was released by the province’s Clean Environment Commission in May 2018, was not made public until two weeks ago. The 165 page report records testimonies from people who have been victimized by the thousands of temporary workers who descended on First Nations territories to build hydroelectric generating stations and converter stations beginning in the 1960s.

The report mentions that the arrival of a majority male construction workforce led to the sexual abuse and rape of Indigenous women. Some of their complaints were totally ignored by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The report also highlighted environmental degradation and an end to the traditional way of life for some Indigenous people.

"Horrific, systemic abuse and exploitation of women and girls of MKO First Nations adjacent to hydroelectric projects has been going on for a long time, but we’re here to say that MKO territory will not tolerate any kind of victimization and abuse of our sisters in any shape, form or fashion," Settee said. They will develop a healing strategy to "ensure no further harm will be inflicted," Settee said without elaborating on it.

Sanders said, "I felt like I was alienated by the board because if I brought up issues that needed to be dealt with. It got very uncomfortable for all of us because the issues that I was raising were not being properly addressed by Manitoba Hydro." She approached the Manitoba Human Rights Commission in 2017 and is still in contact with them about a complaint against Hydro.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro said they "are aware of Ms. Sanders’ views, but do not agree with them. We will fully co-operate with that process if it moves forward.”

Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said the allegations are disturbing and that she is referring the issue to RCMP in order to examine how the complaints were handled.

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