Two sacred fires are now burning on the grounds of the $351 million Canadian Museum for Human Rights as it opens today in Winnipeg.
The fire on the north side of the museum is to recognize the overall situation of Indigenous peoples in Canada. The Winnipeg Free Press reports, “On the south side, a second fire is the site of a peaceful demonstration over the value of water and the contradictions critics see in federal support for the new monument to civil rights. Sponsored by a coalition of environmental and aboriginal groups, including the Council of Canadians, the Wilderness Committee and Amnesty International, the fire is symbolic of federal neglect to ensure safe drinking water for First Nations and of additional federal measures to relax laws that once protected waterways under federal jurisdiction, organizers said.”
The article highlights, “In Winnipeg, the issue of water is a lightning rod in two First Nations on Shoal Lake, the source of the city’s drinking water. A century ago, Shoal Lake 40, one of the two First Nations negotiating currently with the city for compensation, was cut off from the mainland with the construction of an aqueduct and a canal system to carry fresh water to the city. Efforts to build a road 27 kilometres to the nearest highway to reconnect the community to the mainland have made progress with the province and the city, but the final segment of the road, a third of the route, is hung up in talks with Ottawa.”
Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, which as noted above provides drinking water for the City of Winnipeg, has been under a boil water advisory for 17 years and lacks a water treatment plant. More widely, “boil-water advisories are currently in effect in 1,219 Canadian communities, including 136 in Manitoba.”
The Winnipeg chapter of the Council of Canadians has stood in solidarity with Shoal Lake 40 First Nation in their demand for water justice.
In July, chapter activist Linda Goosen visited Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. She writes, “Winnipeg’s decision [to build an aqueduct from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg] had serious repercussions for the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation community. They were dispossessed of land that included ancestral burial grounds as well as their village at the mouth of the Falcon River. Forced to move to the adjacent peninsula, that peninsula was subsequently severed from the mainland by a canal diverting coloured Falcon River water away from Winnipeg’s intake. The community has struggled with this man-made isolation ever since.”
Goosen adds, “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.”
After that visit the Winnipeg chapter asked the Shoal Lake 40 Price of Water committee for direction and they shared the idea of a Museum for Canadian Human Rights Violations. The chapter has wholeheartedly supported this project and chapter member Ken Harasym gave his design services to create a brochure for this museum.
A CBC news report this week explains, “The community of Shoal Lake 40 is spring boarding off the official opening of Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights to launch a cheeky invitation to a ‘living museum’ of its own. …People who book a tour will be met at the barge that people in the community use to cross the water. They will pay the $5 fee that people in the community pay for the trip. They’ll then tour the community and see the lack of clean drinking water. …People will also see the inadequate sewage site, and garbage disposal site.”
For more about the Museum of Canadian Human Rights Violations, please see this Winnipeg chapter web-page.
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