When you turn on the TAP… pray for the GAP

When you turn on the TAP… pray for the GAP

Report on Freedom Road December 8, 2016 Last fall, tens of thousands of Canadians voiced solidarity to confront the systemic injustice of a 100-year relationship between the City of Winnipeg and Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. Fresh water from Shoal Lake has benefited our city and province while costing the people who live there their traditional way of life, their economic viability, personal safety, essential services like safe drinking water and waste disposal and the safety of their children who must live away from home to go to school. Last fall, three levels of government committed to sharing the costs of building Freedom Road. That was an event worth celebrating. However, significant gaps remain. Until the physical gap is bridged (Freedom Road), Shoal Lake 40 remains dangerously isolated. In recent memory, nine people have died for lack of safe access to the mainland. Any more delays cause real risk. There remains a financial gap. Even though appropriate governments have agreed to share costs, our newly elected Provincial Government is reviewing a signed community benefits agreement, which could unfortunately mean losing a construction season. More importantly, there is a moral gap. Everyone who benefits from Winnipeg’s fresh water supply has a moral responsibility to acknowledge that our prosperity has come at the expense of our neighbours. Last year, the city of Winnipeg transferred $32 million in income from Shoal Lake fresh water into its general revenues. Indeed, national Christian leaders are beginning to speak out. Terry Smith, Executive Director of Canadian Baptist Ministries, wrote an open apology to Canada’s First Nations: “…we acknowledge our ongoing complicity through our failure to...
Report on City Councillors’ Trip to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation

Report on City Councillors’ Trip to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation

(Saturday, Oct 31, 2015) Today I’m feeling about as serene as this photo I took yesterday out at Shoal Lake… because today is a rest day after a fruitful week. Last week, close to 4000 mostly Winnipeggers signed a petition supporting public funds for the construction of Freedom Road—a 17 mile provincial grade road linking Shoal Lake 40 First Nation to the Trans Canada Highway, which will redress their century-long imposed isolation and make possible a water treatment plant to end a boil-water advisory they’ve lived under for 18 years. Yesterday, seven city councillors, plus support staff, business leaders, and representatives from the various civil groups that have arisen in support of Freedom Road, met at a church parking lot on the outskirts of Winnipeg at 8:30 in the morning, and crammed into three vans to travel together to Shoal Lake 40. The purpose was to meet with the community there, to engage with people and their story, and to better understand how the aqueduct that supplies Winnipeg with its drinking water has been so devastating to the community that has lived on that land since time immemorial. It was a surprisingly upbeat trip. The councillors were all high spirited, in part because the day before, Mayor Bowman had issued both public and private statements in essence giving his blessing to the trip and reaffirming his commitment to redress a century-long wrong in order to begin a new era of mutuality with our friends and neighbours at Shoal Lake 40—a community which, by the way,  has a name, not just a number: Kekekoziibii (Hawk River). It was rather unbelievable to witness the grace and...
Lessons From Bono and George Bush re: Shoal Lake 40 Freedom Road

Lessons From Bono and George Bush re: Shoal Lake 40 Freedom Road

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. Shortly afterward, Christian music producer Charlie Peacock received a call from Bono asking him to gather the top, most influential Christian musicians in his living room for a meeting.  A week or so later, several somewhat startled and disbelieving artists met at Charlie Peacock’s home in Nashville, and sure enough, Bono showed up, sang them a couple of songs, then explained the situation and asked them to mobilize their fan bases in support of the U.S. getting behind the AIDS crisis.  Bono then took time with individual musicians to help strategize how they could best mobilize their fan bases. The short story is that the musicians did just that, and created such a public outcry that when the next budget came out, President Bush committed significantly more money to the fight than Bono had asked for in the first place. So here’s what I learned from this story: 1. Politicians often want to do what’s right, but given limitations of budgets and competing claims for those funds, they really do need the public to speak out—not acrimoniously, but simply...
FAQ – SHOAL LAKE 40 FREEDOM ROAD

FAQ – SHOAL LAKE 40 FREEDOM ROAD

Q: Why is this initiative so important, especially post-Truth and Reconciliation report? A: Canadians have spent the last few years hearing and absorbing the painful truth of First Nations/settler relations over the past several hundred years, but the hard road of reconciliation still lies ahead. Recovery of the true kinship—from which derives the word “kind”—that was understood at the onset of this relationship will take a lot of time and some very clear gestures of reparation. This particular instance is deeply symbolic in that it involves a road and a bridge: a road to reconciliation and a bridge over troubled waters. These two metaphors are rich with symbolic potential, but the symbols have to be incarnated to have integrity and usefulness. Q: Why should Christians in Canada care about this? A: Our concern for the situation of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation and their struggle for justice runs far deeper than reasonable compassion for a community that has suffered for a century under the callous crush of settler society. Our concern is equally for the wider society who, in pursuit of progress (defined mostly in economic terms), has not only dehumanized and alienated Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, but in doing so has dehumanized themselves and, to some degree, alienated themselves from God. If we look through the lens of biblical covenant, we will see that in this particular situation what some might call an outrage or a disgrace, the scriptures call sin. Simply put, Christians should care about sin. Q: Why should the Federal Government provide funding, and not just the City and Province, given that the City...

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