INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY: Shoal Lake 40- Celebration of the road construction mixed with uncertainty

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CPTnet
30 August 2017
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY: Shoal
Lake 40- Celebration of the road construction mixed with uncertainty

by Kathy
Moorhead Thiessen

Change
brings both joy and uncertainty. Even if the change is something that
has been pleaded for by generations of people for the last 98 years.

Just
over a hundred years ago the municipal engineers of Winnipeg were
searching for a good source of water for the city. Among other
possibilities, such as the Winnipeg River, they “discovered”
abundant, safe drinking water 100 miles away in Shoal Lake. The
Anishinaabe people in the area were in the way of what was deemed the
best site for the aqueduct, so the city appropriated 3,500 acres of
land and moved the community to a peninsula sticking out into the
lake. Then, with the building of a dyke and canal that cut through
the isthmus, that peninsula was made into an island.

The
people of reserve Shoal Lake 40 (SL40) were left for 98 years with no
way to reach stores, hospitals, friends or relatives other than
private boats or a decrepit ferry barge in summer, or an ice road in
winter. During the freeze-up or thawing months they were stuck on the
island. People have died trying to cross the ice. People have died
because they could not get across.

Their
resistance and pressure has gone on for decades. Chief after chief
have spoken and written about their situation to politicians:
Winnipeg city, Manitoba province, Canada country. Bureaucracies’
promises have been made: for economic opportunities, a water
treatment plant and an all-weather road, and then reneged upon.

Meeting at the road construction Shoal Lake 40
Photo: CPTers and visitors speak with a community member, Cathy Green, as she tells about the situation on Shoal Lake 40 and the construction of the road.

Despite
the tireless public campaigning of SL40, it wasn’t until 2015 that
Winnipeg citizens began paying attention and responding to their
inequitable relationship with SL40. Churches and other faith groups
in Manitoba advertised on their church signs, “We support Shoal
Lake 40 Freedom Road,” as part of the Churches for Freedom Road
campaign. In September
2015, CPT joined nearly 1,000 Winnipeggers gathered at the
Legislative Building for the Winnipeg Water Walk to demand justice
for SL40.
People
who had no idea where their clean water came from became aware of the
injustice and began urging their political representatives to
respond. The Friends of Shoal Lake 40 coalition, of which IPS is a
member, was also formed and continues to educate and advocate for a
just relationship in partnership with SL40.

Finally,
in December 2016, all 3 levels of government
committed money to build an all-weather road with a bridge over the aqueduct.
Construction of the 24-kilometer Freedom Road began in mid-May 2017.
It was time to celebrate and Friends of Shoal Lake 40 were invited to
the party on June 30.

Chief
Redsky couldn’t stop smiling. “I keep going out to just look at
the road every week. I just want to see that it is real”. He went
on to say that “we are not just building a road. We are rebuilding
an economy. We are building a relationship with Canada.”

Another
community member, Anne Redsky, spoke with pride about her position in
this new development. The petite woman was hired as driver of a huge
rock truck. After the gigantic granite boulders are blasted with
dynamite and then crushed into small rocks, her truck is loaded with
the heavy materials to go to the site where the bulldozers are
working. “I didn’t think I could do it, but I am actually
building the road!” This road that the elders have been praying
for, resisting for, talking about for decades.

However,
this construction has a bitter side. An elder woman stood up with an
important reminder. “On Saturday, I was in my house and there was a
blast that shook the whole place. I ask you when you go to the road
to put down tobacco as a gift to Mother Earth. This place is the home
of animals, birds and plants. I know there are spirits there. Their
home is being destroyed. Please practise ceremony to ask forgiveness
for all that is being cracked and ripped apart.”

Laying tobacco at Shoal Lake 40 road construction
Photo: Despite
the excitement about the construction, the elders reminded the visitors that the
earth is being torn apart. They asked CPTers to lay down tobacco as gifts to
Mother Earth, the animals and the spirits as their world is being
cracked and ripped apart.

The
community has been living in crisis mode for almost 100 years. Now
they are preparing for the opportunities that will be open to them,
probably within 2 years. However, as community member Roxanne Greene
says, “there are still huge challenges ahead that the road will
bring with it”.  Among them is the reality of having easy
access to the world out beyond the reserve.

As
well, the community knows that resistance will need to continue.
Because of the isolation SL40 has lacked the basic needs that all
Canadians are entitled too, such as adequate housing and clean
drinking water.  Also, the Manitoba government is quite opposed
to calling the new road, Freedom Road, a name the community has used
for years as they dreamed of the future, and ensuring local
employment in its construction.  

So,
our ally and advocacy work alongside the people of Shoal Lake 40 is
not done either.

Read the full article here.

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