With no clean water for 17 years, hundreds rally for federal action for Shoal Lake
Published Saturday, September 12, 2015 9:54PM EDT
A First Nations community that has lived with unclean drinking water for 17 years and no road access for a century hopes this federal election will be their watershed moment.
The Shoal Lake 40 First Nation has been under a boil water advisory for nearly two decades due to a dam that pulls tainted water away from an aqueduct and streams it towards the reserve.
The aqueduct supplies nearby Winnipeg residents with fresh, clean water.
To make matters worse, the Ojibway community has been cut off from the mainland for nearly one hundred years and is thus forced to cross the lake year-round. The journey becomes precarious as the seasons change, and nine people have slipped through winter ice and died in the last 15 years.
“There’s a huge human cost to getting on and off this reserve,” band member Sharon Redsky told CTV News.
The First Nations community has lobbied all three levels of government for $30 million to build an all-weather road, which supporters call “Freedom Road.” The route is considered a first step before the community can build a water treatment plant, kick-start economic development and secure a safe route to their front doors.
The city of Winnipeg and provincial government are both willing to pay $10 million, but the federal government under Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has failed to commit to the plan.
But as the marathon election ramps up, Freedom Road’s supporters hope to steer the unbuilt route into debate territory.
A rally was held in Winnipeg Saturday as hundreds of demonstrators marched through the streets and gathered at the Manitoba legislative building to call on national leaders to take action. Several MP hopefuls and local politicians were among the protesters, including Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger.
"Let's hope that the federal election generates a result of justice for the people of Shoal Lake Band 40," Selinger said through a megaphone.
Both the Liberal and NDP candidates for Winnipeg Centre attended the rally. Each said they would honour a $10-million commitment.
"It's a small price to pay to ensure the people of Shoal Lake have clean water," Liberal candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette said.
"All levels of government should be paying their fair share to finish the Freedom Road,” said NDP candidate Pat Martin.
Conservative candidates in Winnipeg did not reply to CTV Winnipeg’s requests for comment. The Green party has pledged to support the road’s construction.
The issue has long plagued the community, which straddles the border of Ontario and Manitoba. An online fundraiser was launched in June to raise $10 million after a visit from Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford failed to materialize any solid commitment.
During Rickford’s June visit, several residents wept as he reiterated the government’s pledge to pay $1 million for a design study.
"For 100 years, Shoal Lake 40 First Nation has had to pay so Winnipeg could get fresh water," resident Stewart Redsky said at the time. "Our people deserve an answer today."
With files from CTV Winnipeg