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Council of Canadians assists Shoal Lake 40 representative to speak at the UN on the right to water

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation policy analyst Cuyler Cotton and Maude Barlow

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation policy analyst Cuyler Cotton and Maude Barlow cross the ice-covered diversion canal to reach the community, April 2015.

The Council of Canadians has contributed funds to help a representative from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation speak at the United Nations in Geneva on the violation of their right to water.

The First Nation has noted, “Over 100 years ago, the City of Winnipeg displaced Shoal Lake 40 members to build the aqueduct and intake works that diverts drinking water to Winnipeg. Shoal Lake 40 was forcibly relocated onto a peninsula that was severed into a man-made island. …[The community has] lived under a permanent boil-water advisory for the last 18 years, and struggle with inadequate sanitation, healthcare and education facilities. Many members of the community have moved away in order to avoid the additional risks, inconveniences and costs associated with living there.”

While the federal government, the government of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg have now agreed to fund Freedom Road to access the community, this is just a first step. Shoal Lake 40 highlights, “This past fall, Human Rights Watch visited Shoal Lake 40 as part of their investigation on the treatment of First Nations peoples in particular in relation to the right to water and sanitation. Human Rights Watch will be travelling to Geneva with Shoal Lake 40 this February to present the daily realities of living in Shoal Lake 40 and four other Indigenous communities to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow was instrumental in winning the recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation at the United Nations General Assembly in July 2010. Over the years, the Council of Canadians has also helped to highlight the situation faced by this First Nation:

— In January 2013, we first outlined in a campaign blog the crisis being experienced by Shoal Lake 40 First Nation following a trip to Ottawa by their Chief Erwin Redsky.

— In July 2014, our Winnipeg chapter visited Shoal Lake 40. Chapter activist Linda Goosen wrote, “The Council of Canadians is committed to an ongoing relationship with Shoal Lake 40. We support them in their reasonable demand for an end to the century-long isolation imposed by the City of Winnipeg’s water infrastructure. Many lives have been lost and damaged by this man-made isolation, while Winnipeg has benefited and profited from the water. The community has a right to safe access and we would encourage those of us on the receiving end of Shoal Lake’s water, including all levels of governments, to work with Shoal Lake 40 to implement a just solution to this problem.”

— In April 2015, Maude Barlow visited Shoal Lake 40. She stated, “Canada is violating the human right to water in Shoal Lake 40 in order for Winnipeg to have access to safe drinking water. How did we let this happen?” At the time of Barlow’s visit there, the Winnipeg Free Press reported, “The Council of Canadians [has] issued a statement to put pressure on the city, the province and the federal government to push harder on Freedom Road. …It was posted on the Council’s website, along with a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office to press for action on behalf of the community.”

— In June 2015, two members of the Winnipeg chapter attended a ceremony at Shoal Lake 40. Chapter activist Ken Harasym read a statement on behalf of Barlow that highlighted, “The Canadian government must agree to end the century of isolation it forced on Shoal Lake 40, and join with the city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba to fully fund the construction of Freedom Road.”

The Council of Canadians has also repeatedly called for the full realization of the human rights to water and sanitation for Indigenous peoples in Canada. An estimated 20,000 First Nations people living on reserves across Canada have no access to running water or sewage. There are about 117 First Nation communities experiencing boil water advisories (when you include First Nations in British Columbia) and about 400 First Nation communities without a secure supply of drinking water.

The United Nations recognition of the rights to water and sanitation in July 2010 means that the Canadian government is obligated under international law to come up with a plan to fulfill these rights. Canada will have to report on its human rights record at the United Nations by July 24, 2020.

For more on the campaign to send a Shoal Lake 40 First Nation representative to the United Nations, please click here.

Further reading
Our Right to Water: Assessing progress five years after the UN recognition of the human rights to Water and Sanitation by Maude Barlow