When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
— Isaiah 41.17
Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, located in Treaty 3 territory on the Manitoba-Ontario border, was effectively isolated 100 years ago when their lands were expropriated so that an aqueduct could be built to supply Winnipeg with water. Diverting water from Falcon Lake, the digging of a canal across the peninsula turned Shoal Lake 40 land into an island, and they’ve been without a bridge or road to the Trans Canada Highway since—thus cut off from essential services and fair opportunity of economic development. At great cost to the first nation, this situation requires First Nation residents to travel between the community and mainland via ferry – prone to breaking down as recently as this past April – in the summer and across the frozen lake in the winter. This is a 100-year-old travesty that Shoal Lake 40 First Nation and its allies are pressing the various levels of government to correct.
Winnipeg has built a state of the art water treatment plant but inadequate First Nation treatment systems, a known parasitic outbreak, diminishing water quality and more stringent water supply regulations have resulted in an 18 year boil water order in Shoal Lake 40. The cost of building their own water treatment plant is prohibitive without a road linking their artificial island to the highway.
The First Nation currently spends about $130,000 annually to supply bottled water to its approximate 275 members. The construction of an all-weather road – coined “Freedom Road” by the community — connecting the First Nation with the nearby TransCanada Highway, will not only facilitate economic development but enable the building of a water-treatment plant on reserve.
In the summer of 2015, Churches for Freedom Road, a coalition of congregations, joined other solidarity groups to support Shoal Lake 40 First Nation in their long work of securing a funding commitment from all three levels of government to right the wrong of their artificially imposed isolation. On December 17, 2015, municipal, provincial, and federal representatives met with leaders of the First Nation and signed an agreement to build a road from the reserve to the TransCanada Highway.
There is still much work to be done in seeing the road construction through to completion. One of the two required bridges has now been built (funded by the City of Winnipeg), and the second will begin construction shortly. There are more barriers to overcome, and Churches for Freedom Road is committed to a partnership that lasts until the road is completed, and God-willing long after. We will continue to post updates and/or calls to action as they arise. Pray for Shoal Lake 40 in the long journey ahead.
We, the organizing committee for Churches for Freedom Road, have been moved by the efforts of Shoal Lake 40 and grassroots organizations in Winnipeg in advocating for just relations between the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba, the Federal Government and Shoal Lake 40. In response to the work being done in our midst, we wish to mobilize Winnipeg-based faith communities in joining the calls for the Shoal Lake 40 Freedom Road. This is the road to reconciliation with Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.
We are asking that churches and faith groups across Winnipeg and Manitoba use their signage in support of Shoal Lake 40. We will collect photos of all the signs and create a large collage poster with the words:
Churches For Freedom Road
In support of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation
We will print the poster, put them up all over the city, and most importantly send one to each Member of Parliament.
Will you join us in this effort? If your church doesn’t have an editable sign, you are welcome to get creative!
Please send photos to email@example.com.
Churches for Freedom Road will remain vigorously active until funds for Freedom Road are fully committed and construction has begun.
Submit Your Photos
Submit By Email
You can email your photos to us to: firstname.lastname@example.org
OTHER WAYS TO SUPPORT SHOAL LAKE 40
Sign the NEW petition to Mayor Bowman and Winnipeg City Councillors requesting that funds for Freedom Road be allocated in their 2016 budget: buildfreedomroad.com
Add your name to the "Road to Reconciliation" Petition that is being sent to Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford and the House of Commons.
Write a letter to the Prime Minister. Voice your concern in your own words, or use this handy template created by the Council of Canadians.
Are you a student? Students for Freedom Road has now been launched!
Start your own campaign! Ideas:
"Musicians for Freedom Road"
"Businesses for Freedom Road"
Email email@example.com for web templates and resources. We are happy to provide any support we can!
If you have clean drinking water, be thankful!
FROM THE BLOG
If you were to walk down the streets of Winnipeg and ask random people where their water comes from, and they were to respond with, “Shoal Lake,” I would be proud. If those strangers were then to go on to explain that Winnipeg’s water extraction has caused the forced isolation and boil water advisory of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, I would be amazed. That would mean that the work of Shoal Lake 40 advocates over the past 100 years has finally paid off. It would mean that settler allies of Shoal Lake 40 have played their small part in bringing awareness to those living on the other end of the aqueduct.read more
The short report is that Freedom Road is going ahead and much has already been done to close the gap of isolation that has cost Shoal Lake 40 First nation so dearly. Of concern is the new Manitoba government’s review of its predecessor’s commitments. There is no reason to believe the province’s commitment is suspect, as the review process is a reasonable and responsible act of new governance, however any real delays of construction due to bureaucratic process keeps lives at risk. We ask for prayers and watchfulness.read more
Article by Samantha Klassen (Students for Freedom Road Leader)
…Something that I have noticed about our culture is that sometimes we think we are “participating” in something important because we read the article, watch the video, and re-tweet it. But as we went through the tour it became increasingly clear to me that nothing – not photographs, HD video, or newspaper coverage – can replace being present with people, being present to a place. The city councillors knew about SL40 and about the injustice, but as Stewart Redsky emphasized, this was “seeing and feeling” learning. This was empathy in practice. You could read about the issue all you wanted, and care or not, but once you have shared space with the people of SL40, seen their living conditions, and felt their grief, what you read no longer matters. All that matters is getting the work done so that the injustice can be ended.read more
By: Chuck Wright (Christian Peacemaker Teams)
& Christie McLeod (Mondetta Charity Foundation)
Recent announcements from the Mayor’s office and a journey with City Councillors and supporters to Shoal Lake 40 confirm that with demonstrable public support, the construction of an all-weather access road dubbed “Freedom Road” may happen as soon as this winter – which in Chief Erwin Redsky’s words is “a matter of survival… [and] a matter of our most basic human rights.”read more
… we are well on our way to a new and mutually flourishing relationship with our good neighbours at Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. I’m praying that this can be a symbol and model of a sea change in relations between First Nations and Settler peoples across the country. Freedom Road is not in itself mutuality; it only makes mutuality possible. It is not in itself reconciliation; it is a road to reconciliation. There is still so much repair to be done. But this is not an insignificant step.read more
Here’s the story as I heard it…
At the height of the AIDS crisis over a decade ago, Bono met with George W. Bush asking him to commit a rather large amount of money to help in the fight against AIDS in Africa. Apparently President Bush was sincerely empathetic and agreed that the U.S. should do something significant, but informed Bono that he couldn’t just unilaterally write a cheque. He suggested, however, that if Bono would go out and create a demonstration of public support for such a move, President Bush then could, and would, respond to the public demonstration.read more
As citizens of the fair city of Winnipeg, we respectfully ask that His Worship Mayor Bowman and our City Counsellors ensure funds be committed in the 2016 budget, and do whatever is necessary to ensure that construction of Freedom Road for Shoal Lake 40 can begin immediately upon completion of the jointly developed design.
It’s time to move from commitment in principle to commitment in deed.
It’s the right thing to do!
This Thanksgiving, I encourage you and your loved ones to thank our Creator for our fresh water supply. As you do that, will you also remember our neighbours at Shoal Lake 40 First Nation who do not share that same privilege?read more
For those who would like to consider the issue of Freedom Road in their decision-making for the upcoming Federal election, we surveyed the candidates for Manitoba and South-Western Ontario to ask if they would personally pledge their support for the building of a provincial grade all-weather road linking Shoal Lake 40 First Nation with the Trans-Canada Highway… Below are the results, sorted by party and then riding.read more
Winnipeg Free Press article by by Dave Angus, President of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce
“Our bodies are made up of nearly 80 per cent water. That means there’s Shoal Lake in all Winnipeggers.”
These were the parting words shared by Chief Erwin Redsky with our small Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce delegation to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation last week. I cannot think of a more powerful connection between communities.read more
News & Links
CBC News — November 25, 2016
Shoal Lake's Freedom Road design complete, price tag reduced
CBC News Manitoba — November 7, 2016
"Freedom Road a go but negotiations on paying for it continue"
Canadian Baptist Ministries — October 21, 2016
"Resetting the Relationship: A Canadian Baptist Apology to our Indigenous Peoples of Canada"
Kolbe Times article — January 29, 2016 (written by Steve Bell)
"Freedom Road: My Brief Life as a Christian Activist"
CTV News story — December 17, 2015
"Isolated Shoal Lake 40 First Nation gets its 'Freedom Road'"
Winnipeg Free Press article — November 3, 2015 (written by Steve Bell)
"Mayor behind Freedom Road: Righting wrong should be model for future"
Winnipeg Free Press article — October 23, 2015
"Freedom Road inches closer: City councillors to tour Shoal Lake 40"
APTN National News — September 16, 2015
"Shoal Lake 40 First Nation part of world-wide health study destined for United Nations"
Kenora Online Article — September 13, 2015
"Knox Delegation Visits Shoal Lake 40's Freedom Road"
Winnipeg Water Walk
in support of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation — event on September 12, 2015
Steve Bell Blog Post — August 10, 2015
Shoal Lake 40: Situation Synopsis and Request
Steve Bell Blog Post — July 28, 2015
Open Letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper Regarding Shoal Lake 40 First Nation
Winnipeg Free Press Article — July 24, 2015
"Tsunami for First Nation"
CBC News Article — July 9, 2015
“Campaign to help Shoal Lake 40 First Nation intensifies”
CBC News Video — July 10, 2015
“Religious communities rise up to help Shoal Lake 40 First Nation”
Winnipeg Free Press Article — June 26, 2015
“Shoal Lake reserve residents weep as Ottawa balks at funding road construction”
The Walrus — March 2015
“Sucked Dry: First Nation suffers so Winnipeg can have water”
Canadian Mennonite — November 19, 2014
“Water of Life: Winnipeg Mennonites follow their drinking water to its source”
Mennonite Church Canada Video - November 3, 2014
"Two Waters, One Source"
Shoal Lake 40 First Nation website
Council of Canadians Article — Includes helpful maps and history
“The price of water: Shoal Lake 40”
The Council of Canadians — Winnipeg Chapter
“Shoal Lake 40 Launches the Museum of Human Rights Violations”
Social Media Links
Jeff Friesen – Associate Pastor, Charleswood Mennonite Church
Chuck Wright – Full-Time Member of CPT-Indigenous Peoples Solidarity
Dorothy Fontaine – Director of Mission, Mennonite Church Manitoba
Moses Falco – Pastor, Sterling Mennonite Fellowship
Amy Knight – Admin Assistant, Signpost Music (St. Margaret's Anglican Church)
Steve Bell – Winnipeg-based singer / songwriter (st. benedict's table)
Kyle Mason – Founder & Executive Director, North End Family Centre
Rick Hill – Pastor, Elim Chapel
Judith Friesen-Epp – Associate Pastor, Home Street Mennonite Church
Vincent Solomon – Indigenous Neighbours Coordinator, MCC Manitoba
God Bless you for sounding a Christian voice in support of God’s beloved, in particular, the isolated community at Shoal Lake 40. I support your endeavors 100 percent.
— Joy Smith, Conservative MP, Kildonan-St. Paul (Wpg)
As Dean of the North American Lutheran Church - Canada Section, I ask you as Prime Minister and as a fellow believer, for the love of God and all that is good and true, to support this road being built by supplying the remaining funds in order for its completion. These actions in the service of the good and true justice will speak louder than any campaign ads or the shaking of hands.
I support the Shoal Lake 40 Freedom Road Project.
With all respect and regards,
— Rev. Dean Phillip Gagnon, St. Albert Evangelical Lutheran Church
Justice is more than just courts and police – it is also treating everyone justly, and repairing harm that has been done to others. Let’s start by repairing the harm to Shoal Lake 40. The John Howard Society of Manitoba supports the Freedom Road.
— John Hutton, Executive Director, John Howard Society of Manitoba
Given the history of this issue, basic justice would indicate that the people of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation should receive the benefit of this proposed road which will link them to the wider community and assist their economic development for the future.
I support this initiative.
— Richard Gagnon, Archbishop of Winnipeg (Catholic)
We take clean drinking water from our taps for granted. We also take for granted that we will be able to visit our neighbours, friends, and family using accessible roads and highways. Unfortunately, many First Nations people are denied these very basic expectations. Shoal Lake 40 FN needs a bridge, a road and clean water. We expect it. Why can’t they!
Jesus teaches us that reconciliation begins with the basics of restored relationship – with our Creator, other people and the rest of creation. Sometimes it begins as simply as offering a cup of cold water, other times it requires more. Let’s be good citizens, good treaty people, and honour Jesus."
— Terry LeBlanc, PhD., D.D.
Founding Chair, Director, NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community*
(North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies)
Jesus calls us to right relationships that have been wronged. For more than 100 years, Canada’s relationship with Shoal Lake First Nation – like so many others – has been fractured. We have a chance to heal that wound and bring hope to our collective community. I’m heartened by the example of so many people who are seeking change and delighted to stand alongside our congregations supporting Shoal Lake 40. Let’s honour our treaty relationships. Let’s become good neighbours.
— Willard Metzger, Executive Director of Mennonite Church Canada
Reconciliation needs to be felt in every Indigenous community in this country. For reconciliation to be real, we need measurable steps toward equity. Solidarity with Shoal Lake 40 First Nation is a vital way to demonstrate commitment to a transformed country.
— Jennifer Henry, Executive Director of Kairos
Thanks for helping to mobilize the members of our Church to act on behalf of those who need our support.
At the closing ceremony for the TRC being held in Winnipeg, Elder Stan McKay, in reflecting on what First Nations really need to move forward, said, "We dont need help. What we need is relatives!" — meaning people who are concerned for the welfare of indigenous Canadians because they feel connected to them in the way that First Nations believe is true for the whole human family.
— Donald Phillips, Bishop of Ruperts Land / Anglican Church of Canada