The community has an answer to this problem, one it considers essential to their survival and viability as a people: ‘Freedom Road’
It’s SL40’s name for a new, all-weather access road. Total construction costs: $30 million. Both the City and the Province of Manitoba support the road project, and have committed matching funds: the only hold-out has been Ottawa, which has historically refused to invest the final $10 million.
With a new party in power, it’s time more than ever for the federal government to live up to its responsibilities. Initiated as a companion website to Road to Reconciliation (the now-over crowdfunding campaign that hoped to fill the federal funding gap), Honour The Source remains an on-line hub for city-wide efforts to support SL40’s fight for Indigenous clean water in Canada. Join our mailing list for the latest on how you can be a part of it.
For almost 100 years, the waters by Shoal Lake 40 First Nation have been a steady, reliable source of nourishment and enjoyment for hundreds of thousands of Winnipeggers. Yet, for the past 18 years, SL40 has been forced to live under a boil-water advisory.
For those new to this story, this succinct backgrounder by Adele Perry and Peter Ives encapsulates the history of how the City of Winnipeg—with Canada’s help—came to claim Shoal Lake’s water as its own:
Drinking water denied to residents: Moral, historical and legal obligation to build ‘Freedom Road’ (Winnipeg Free Press, July 3, 2015)
For an update on the more recent history of this situation, there’s this equally helpful report by journalist David P. Ball:
Will Canada Unblock this People’s ‘Road to Freedom’? (The Tyee, June 24, 2015)
(Further background on the Shoal Lake 40 story is available on the ‘News & Links’ section of the Churches for Freedom Road website.)
As it happens, 2015 marks a disturbing anniversary for the relationship between Winnipeg and Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. For it was precisely a century ago that SL40 was first pushed off its lands onto what was effectively a man-made island in order that a far-away city could quench its growing thirst.
But in the shadow of such a grim milestone may lay the seeds of an opportunity to transform this relationship, to truly walk our talk down the road toward reconciliation. Now that we as Winnipeggers know the full story of where our water comes from, and the terrible price paid by those who supply it, we hope you will join us in wanting to see justice done, so that honour may be restored to the relationship between the first peoples of this land and those who share in its many gifts.
How to Help
These are the current campaigns and actions in support of Shoal Lake 40 that we are aware of; if you know of others, please drop us a line.
Formed in late September, Students for Freedom Road is a “group for students of all ages. We are starting a student movement for Shoal Lake 40 … invite all students you know.” You can join their Facebook group and follow them on Twitter.
If you were part of the summer 2015 campaigns 10 Days for Shoal Lake or the Winnipeg Water Walk (more on Facebook), you may or may not be aware of the “Churches for Freedom Road” campaign. It aims to “mobilize Winnipeg-based faith communities in joining the calls for the Shoal Lake 40 Freedom Road [by] asking that churches and faith groups across Winnipeg and Manitoba use their [outdoor] signage in support of Shoal Lake 40. ” The site has a lot of excellent background and resources.
Winnipeg is of course home to a number of municipal, provincial and federal politicians. To ensure their respective governments either keep (or make) promises to help build Freedom Road, they first need to know that it matters to their constituents. The best way to do that is to contact them directly by phone, email and/or social media. If enough of the electorate care, those who want to be elected (or re-elected) will care.
Inspired by the Council of Canadians‘ electronic letter in support of SL40 to federal, provincial and municipal politicians, we have adapted some language from that letter that you can use to email City of Winnipeg Councillors, Manitoba MLAs and/or newly-elected Liberal Members of Parliament. Their emails and social media info are below.
- Manitoba Members of the Legislative Assembly: by Constituency
- Manitoba Members of the Legislative Assembly: by Name
With the Oct. 19 election over, we now have a number of new Winnipeg MPs, all but one of whom belong to the new governing Liberal Party. Let them and their leader Justin Trudeau know that you want the government to honour their promise to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation:
“The current unreliable, expensive, and often dangerous access to Shoal Lake 40 cannot be allowed to continue. It is time to ensure permanent, year-round access by road to this community. A Liberal government is committed to delivering funding for the Freedom Road to Shoal Lake 40. We will work in good faith with the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, Winnipeg, and Manitoba to resolve the access issue permanently for the well-being of all residents.”
Members of Parliament (Party)
A recently launched civic-level petition notes that funding to begin construction “must be in place by January 2016. It seems that the last one standing as a possible obstacle to this is the City of Winnipeg. This petition is to respectfully let our city’s Mayor and councillors know there is strong public support for our city to commit to construction of Freedom Road so there will be no further, unnecessary delays. … Our City and our citizens will be more than embarrassed if we are not able to live up to our side of the bargain.”
Over 7,000 signatories added their names to an earlier on-line petition calling on the then-Conservative federal government to “honour your fiduciary obligation to the people of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation by funding your share of the cost to build them a permanent all-weather road, so that they may have reasonable access to the means of economic exchange, and to their basic human right of clean drinking water.”
If you are a Winnipeg-based business or organization that would like to share your support with your clientele or membership, we’ve designed a printable, double-sided brochure (‘tri-fold,’ 8½ x 11 inch). Get the PDF of the brochure here. It looks nice in colour but will work in black-and-white too. Some brochures have also been printed, courtesy of the UWSA: let us know if you’d like us to deliver some.
Back in late June, the 60-day crowdfunder Shoal Lake 40: Road to Reconciliation was launched with the hopes of raising the $10 million Ottawa refuses to invest in the construction of Freedom Road. In the end, it attracted just over 1,000 pledges—or the rough equivalent of one in every 700 Winnipeggers—collectively promising over $100,000. A thousand people stepping up, ready to put up money in support of SL40, is no small feat. Together with the other Winnipeg wellsprings of pro-SL40 activism, like Churches for Freedom Road, 10 Days for Shoal Lake and Water Wednesdays, the whole truly has become greater than the sum of its parts. What people now know about the situation at Shoal Lake 40, they can never un-know. And with knowledge often comes action for change. Two federal political parties made explicit commitments to build Freedom Road during the election. How did they know people cared? If the support and attention enjoyed by this crowdfunder had a hand in it, then its goal of raising awareness (as well as funds) was definitely achieved.
Sign up for our brand new “Honour The Source” electronic newsletter: updates on current and upcoming activities that continue the fight for clean water for Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. (Updates may be more frequent closer to the day of an event.)
The following ‘Qs’ are a work in progress. If you’ve got a question, chances are someone else has thought of it too, so ask away: drop us a line at email@example.com. We’ll do our best to answer them as soon we have an opportunity.
The crowdfunder’s over and you didn’t meet your goal, so what happens to all the money that was pledged?
Like most crowdfunders, this was an ‘all or nothing’ campaign. Which basically means no pledges were collected, and no money’s changed hands. Any cheques mailed in support of the crowdfunder will be destroyed/voided. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any further questions.
I’d still like to contribute some funds to the building of Freedom Road: is there any way I can do that?
The short answer is ‘maybe’—we’re looking into possibilities.
Because all of our energies were invested in the crowdfunder itself, we did not look beyond it. Now that’s it over, we’re open to ideas for an alternative, but nothing firm has been committed to yet. For now, we’re focusing on other ways to keep the momentum of this campaign going.
FAQs: Freedom Road
What does access to clean water have to do with building a road?
The fact is, Shoal Lake 40 cannot get funding to build a community-operated water filtration plant without a road already in place. Which makes Freedom Road a critical first step toward addressing Shoal Lake 40’s problem with drinking water.
Where would the road go?
Once completed, the 27-kilometre road would connect the island community of SL40 to the Trans-Canada Highway via 9 kms of road on Shoal Lake #40 First Nation reserve land, 18 kms of Manitoba provincial Crown lands, along with bridge portions above water (a canal) and over dry land by the aqueduct.
FAQs: Shoal Lake 40 First Nation
Where is Shoal Lake 40?
Like the body of water from which it draws its name, Shoal Lake 40 First Nation straddles the border of Manitoba and Ontario.
How many people live there?
According to records kept by the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs, Shoal Lake No. 40 has a “total registered population” of 615 people as of 2011, with just over half of them living off-reserve. Many have left due to the difficult living conditions set in motion by the creation of Winnipeg’s aqueduct.
How did the people of SL40 end up living on such an isolated island?
When the Greater Winnipeg Water District built the Aqueduct in the early 1900s, a dyke was created, along with a 15-metre-wide (50 foot) canal to separate what was called “dark” water from the desirable water. While the desirable water was diverted to the Aqueduct (and then on to Winnipeg), that other water was channeled toward Shoal Lake 40 by way of the canal: it is this canal that effectively separates SL40 from the mainland.
Honour the Source is a site dedicated to raising awareness and inspiring action about the crisis facing Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, a people whose territory includes Winnipeg’s primary source of water, Shoal Lake.