Smoke from wood fires will drift over opening ceremonies at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights from two sacred aboriginal fires burning this weekend at The Forks.

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Smoke from wood fires will drift over opening ceremonies at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights from two sacred aboriginal fires burning this weekend at The Forks.

On the north side, a fire is burning for ceremonial purposes to mark the plight of aboriginal peoples in Canada, which many aboriginal people now openly call a form of government-sponsored genocide. On the south side, a second fire is the site of a peaceful demonstration over the value of water and the contradictions critics see in federal support for the new monument to civil rights.

A group of First Nations people, including Gerry Shingoose, Lorraine Clements who reside in Winnipeg have set up a small teepee to honour  the people of their past near the site of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. They will be smudging the area to prepare the area for the museums opening Friday. A morning ceremony will be held a 9 a.m. which all are welcome.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A group of First Nations people, including Gerry Shingoose, Lorraine Clements who reside in Winnipeg have set up a small teepee to honour the people of their past near the site of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. They will be smudging the area to prepare the area for the museums opening Friday. A morning ceremony will be held a 9 a.m. which all are welcome.

Sponsored by a coalition of environmental and aboriginal groups, including the Council of Canadians, the Wilderness Committee and Amnesty International, the fire is symbolic of federal neglect to ensure safe drinking water for First Nations and of additional federal measures to relax laws that once protected waterways under federal jurisdiction, organizers said.

"What we want to do is draw attention to the use of water in the museum. They’re using it in Garden of Contemplation (a gallery) and the intention is on reflection and healing. Yet the Canadian government doesn’t give everyone equal access to water... and their responsibility for water at an environmental level shows an incredible contradiction," said Ashlyn Haglund from the Wilderness Committee.

Boil-water advisories are currently in effect in 1,219 Canadian communities, including 136 in Manitoba.

Many are related to water contamination that can be traced to resource and hydro development in the north, she said.

In Winnipeg, the issue of water is a lightning rod in two First Nations on Shoal Lake, the source of the city’s drinking water. A century ago, Shoal Lake 40, one of the two First Nations negotiating currently with the city for compensation, was cut off from the mainland with the construction of an aqueduct and a canal system to carry fresh water to the city. Efforts to build a road 27 kilometres to the nearest highway to reconnect the community to the mainland have made progress with the province and the city, but the final segment of the road, a third of the route, is hung up in talks with Ottawa.

The chief of Shoal Lake 40 gestured to the museum for human rights on Thursday and called it a "shrine to hypocrisy" for his people; Ottawa helped fund the museum but it won’t help build a road at Shoal Lake, Chief Erwin Redsky said.

"If you come to our community, you’ll see that hypocrisy for yourself. Here, they claim to be the museum for human rights. We’re creating our own museum, a real-life museum with real people. You’ll see the poverty. That’s not what we envisioned when we signed the treaty," Redsky said.

Redsky and a handful of Shoal Lake residents are manning the sacred fire until Sunday morning to raise awareness of their community’s highway project. "What we are trying to say is there’s two ends of this pipe, the water pipe from my community to this city. On this end there’s prosperity, all the good stuff. On our end, our community is slowly dying. It’s been cut off from the rest of the world for 100 years," said band consultant Daryl Redsky. "We just want to be able to enjoy the same opportunities as everybody else."

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca