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Historical photographs show some of the structures along the Snye and Athabasca Rivers that once formed part of Moccasin Flats. (NWT Archives)

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo will ask the provincial government to launch a public inquiry into the forced evictions decades ago of First Nations and Métis people from an area known as Moccasin Flats.

On Tuesday, the municipal council voted to call on the province to launch an inquiry after it heard presentations from the administration and members of the public.

Though the municipality’s request cannot compel the province to undertake a public inquiry, Mayor Don Scott said if one is granted, subpoenas could be issued for those involved.

"Inquiries have the power to obtain a fuller understanding of the truth," Scott said. "The reason that they can do that is that they can compel witnesses and they can force people to produce documents."

Moccasin Flats, near the north end of downtown Fort McMuuray, was an area where some First Nations and Métis families lived for part of each year.

At least 12 families were evicted in the late 1970s and early 1980s to accommodate urban development.

Over the years, Indigenous people have held protests and demanded an apology for the forced evictions. Moccasin Flats was bulldozed to make way for the apartment building in the background. (NWT Archives) One speaker at Tuesday’s council meeting was elder James Grant, who grew up in Moccasin Flats and said he is still hurt by what happened to the riverside community.

"Moccasin Flats is torture by the city and Syncrude," said Grant, 75. "And that is wrong."

The land is now home to the River Park Glen apartment complex and a recreation centre. Inquires can compel witnesses

Members of Fort McMurray’s Indigenous communities have called the evictions unjust and point to what happened as an example of systemic racism that plagued the oilsands region.

The municipality has said it will participate if an inquiry is called.

In the years after the evictions, Syncrude developed the Moccasin Flats land through one of its companies. The company has distanced itself from responsibility for the removal of Indigenous families.

Spokesperson Will Gibson said Wednesday it’s too early to speculate about the company’s involvement should an inquiry be called.

Gibson said the expropriation was carried out by the municipality.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC’s Fort McMurray correspondent, on Facebook , Twitter , LinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca

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