Last week I had the opportunity to go out to Shoal Lake 40 – that’s the place Winnipeg has gotten it’s drinking water from for over 100 years. I was invited by Kyle Mason who is involved in the group Churches for Freedom Road/Friends of Shoal Lake 40. It’s very encouraging to see how many citizens in Winnipeg are becoming animated in this challenge to provide this basic right of water to our relatives on the other end of the pipeline.
It was about a 2 hour drive from Winnipeg out to Shoal Lake 40 along with Shoal Laker Sharon Redsky, Damon Johnston, Angelina Redsky, Dirk Creighton of Winnipeg Police Indigenous partnership section, with the last 8km of road unpaved on the Iskatewizaagegan 39 Reserve. We also had a 8-10 minute ferry ride over the lake which cuts off access to the rest of the world for Shoal Lake 40 every fall and spring. Last year that ferry broke down causing a state of emergency to be called, people have died attempting to cross the waters and citizens risk their lives testing the ice.
In 2007 the community marched and 100+ community members including many youth leaders walked from Shoal Lake 40 all the way to Winnipeg. They camped on the grounds of the legislature, made headlines, got agreements ‘in principle’ and thought Freedom Road would be a sure thing. Sadly the progress stalled somewhere along the way. Jurisdiction has always been with Winnipeg & Manitoba governments as beneficiaries of the aqueduct and since 80% of Shoal Lake 40 is in Manitoba. Of course, being a First Nation, federal jurisdiction also applies. Seeing as how there is a limitation of what community leadership can do financially, there are agreements in place that promise economic development acknowledging the various levels of responsibility. However those agreements have not resulted in any increase in employment. The community has recently been very effective and gaining momentum in terms of Winnipeg & national public support for Freedom Road. The big reason why I was there was to explore this situation in greater detail through the “Canadian Museum of Human Rights Infractions”. There were several high profile guests including 7 City of Winnipeg councillors, students, church groups and other concerned Winnipeggers who explored the museum and several sites throughout the community.
As I understand, the original agreement that provided us in Winnipeg with water, also ensured that no harm would come to the residents of Shoal Lake 40. Well that’s clearly not the case considering Shoal Lake 40 has spent the last 18 years under a boil water advisory alert (like 96 other First Nations communities in Canada as of August 31st 2015). Children develop rashes of bathed in the water & the bottled water is of enormous cost to the community making saving for the infrastructure of Freedom Road difficult with its $27 million dollar price tag plus a $3 million dollar study attached.
What can we do?
One of the best things you can do for starters is get educated on the facts. By learning the history and details you can make an educated decision on an action that is impactful and achieves the goal of supporting our relatives in Shoal Lake 40. Don’t know where to start? Check out these great links:
Next, take action. You can be as creative as you like in your action, ensuring it is in line with the communities wishes. In this specific example, the community wants Freedom Road. I have spoken with members of Shoal Lake 40 about Winnipeg Water Wednesday and there is support for it. For the last few summers, AYO & Idle No More activists facilitated activities, speakers, art events & advocacy activities under the banner of Winnipeg Water Wednesday, you can find details of what we did in summer of 2015 here: http://www.ayomovement.com/water-wednesday.html. Imagine if every citizen group, school, workplace and neighbourhood organized events to raise awareness and encourage action every Wednesday from now until Shoal Lake 40 has Freedom Road built. I believe if 700,000 Winnipeggers demand support for Freedom Road – we can help bring a basic human right and some justice to our relatives on the other end of the pipeline.