Manitoba First Nation under boil-water advisory for 16 years

The dyke at the mouth of the Shoal Lake canal that provides drinking water for Winnipeg, but cut...

The dyke at the mouth of the Shoal Lake canal that provides drinking water for Winnipeg, but cut off land access to the community of Shoal Lake 40 in 1914. ALAN S. HALE/Kenora Daily Miner and News/QMI Agency

Alan S. Hale, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:25 PM ET

WINNIPEG -- It has been an entire century since the canal that feeds Winnipeg all of its drinking water was dug through the peninsula where the people of the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation make their home, turning it into a man-made island and plunging the aboriginal community into 100 years of isolation, hardship and life-threatening danger.

To mark the centennial earlier this week, Shoal Lake 40 invited representatives from the new Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg to hear about the community's challenges with water, including a 16-year boil-water order.

"We need water to live, but water can take life too," said the community's chief, Erwin Redsky.

The canal cuts off road access, so the community has had to use ice roads or the community barge to bring in everything they need through Shoal Lake 39.

Everyone in Shoal Lake 40 has had a friend or family member drown in the lake by just trying to get home, including Lorne Redsky.

"Every day is a struggle just to go to the store in Kenora. I've lost a lot of family and friends," said Redsky.

Emergency health care is also a challenge, as even air ambulances can be kept away by severe weather.

Janice Redsky recalled a time when she fell ill during a pregnancy.

"I got really sick and we called an ambulance but we couldn't get across. The ambulance was at the landing. I don't remember how we eventually got across but the ambulance was already gone," she said. The community health representative arrived and called a taxi. "We went to the hospital and I had a miscarriage," Janice said.

Winnipeg and Manitoba governmental representatives made the trip to the event but there was an empty, flag-draped chair for the federal representative.

The guests of honour were a delegation from the Human Rights Museum, which was the target of a protest walk by the community in 2007 to highlight what the First Nation sees as the Canadian hypocrisy of trumpeting its human rights records while using water obtained by violating the human rights of aboriginal people.

The museum's head of stakeholder relations, Clint Curle, said the community's right to clean water is "just the tip of the iceberg."

"There's a whole cascade of human rights issues here including the forced isolation of this community, but we could also talk about the rights to health, personal security, freedom of movement and association and even the right to life. All of these are live issues here because of the canal."

 


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