Winnipeg chapter in solidarity with Shoal Lake 40's demand for Freedom Road

Shoal Lake 40 ceremony
The Winnipeg chapter attended the ceremony at Shoal Lake 40 this past Thursday.

Two members of the Council of Canadians Winnipeg chapter attended a ceremony at Shoal Lake 40, a First Nation situated about 160 kilometres east of Winnipeg near the border between Manitoba and Ontario, on June 25.

Representatives from the Manitoba provincial government and Winnipeg city council were there to recommit their $10 million each for the construction of a $30 million all-weather road - named 'Freedom Road' by residents - to connect the First Nation to the mainland. The road is needed because the First Nation was cut off a century ago when an aqueduct was built to supply Winnipeg with its drinking water.

The federal Natural Resources minister Greg Rickford was also at the ceremony. His presence created the hope and expectation that he would announce the needed $10 million federal portion of funding for the road.

The Canadian Press reports, "Both Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg announced a commitment Thursday to fund part of the cost of a permanent, all-weather road for Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, which straddles the Ontario-Manitoba boundary. But Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford refused to say whether Ottawa would put up its share of the cost during a ceremony on the reserve and left community members openly sobbing with disappointment. Instead, he reiterated the federal government's $1-million pledge to a design study for the project."

The situation is desperate and the consequences of federal inaction on the construction of this road are severe. The news service notes, "The community's problems got worse earlier this year when its aging ferry didn't pass federal inspection. The reserve — with no way for people to get groceries, water or immediate medical attention — declared a state of emergency. The ferry has since been patched up but the community remains vulnerable. Every year, people trying to get home fall through the ice. Paramedics and home-care workers won't come into the community for safety reasons."

CTV also highlights, "The Ojibway community was moved to a man-made island 100 years ago so that Winnipeg could draw clean drinking water. Shoal Lake residents were left with water so dirty that weeds sometimes come through the taps." In fact, they have been under a boil water advisory for the past 18 years. "[A] water treatment plant cannot easily be built without a road."

The Canadian Press article adds, "Rickford left the announcement while [former chief] Stewart Redsky wept in frustration as he spoke to people gathered in the community."

Afterwards, chapter activist Ken Harasym was invited to read a statement on behalf of Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow. That statement 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 secure all-weather access road to Shoal Lake 40 currently under design."

Later Barlow also commented in a media release that, "It is absolutely shameful that Minister Rickford would meet Shoal Lake 40 residents then walk away without committing the needed federal funds for their Freedom Road. ...Canada is violating the human right to water in Shoal Lake 40 in order for Winnipeg to have access to safe drinking water. ...It is time for the Harper government to do the right thing. He must publicly commit the needed funding towards the construction of Freedom Road and put an end to 100 years of force isolation of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation."

The next day the Winnipeg Free Press editorial board condemned Rickford. It wrote, "The Harper government is planning to spend $100 million to expand the national highway located on Treaty 3 land, but it has steadfastly refused to join other levels of government for a $30-million, 28-kilometre road that would link Shoal Lake with the Trans-Canada. ...Instead [of committing to the needed funding], in a breathtaking display of hypocrisy, Mr. Rickford repeated a pledge to spend $1 million on a design study for a road. This is the same government that opposes an inquiry into missing and murdered women because, it says, nothing new would be learned."

To send a letter to Rickford, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and others demanding immediate action on Freedom Road, please click our action alert here.