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Weasel words from feds on Shoal Lake

This ferry to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation is no longer in use after it failed to pass inspection. The community is cut off from the mainland.


This ferry to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation is no longer in use after it failed to pass inspection. The community is cut off from the mainland.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/6/2015 (1671 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The living conditions for the people of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation on the Ontario-Manitoba border are brutally primitive, but they can hear the sounds of civilization from traffic on the nearby Trans-Canada Highway. The stark contrast is a continuing indictment of the indifference of Canadian society.

We ignore their plight at our peril.

The Harper government is planning to spend $100 million to expand the national highway located on Treaty 3 land, but it has steadfastly refused to join other levels of government for a $30-million, 28-kilometre road that would link Shoal Lake with the Trans-Canada.

In a deal it never signed because it had no such authority, the band was reduced to an island in 1914 when Ontario, Manitoba, Ottawa and the United States agreed to Winnipeg’s plan to build an aqueduct that supplies Winnipeg with its drinking water. Shoal Lake has been under a boil water advisory for 18 years — one of the longest such advisories in Canada — and travel across the open water is treacherous, particularly in winter. Several people have fallen through the ice and died.

Garbage removal, economic development and social connections have all been impaired. The absence of clean drinking water is also a human-rights issue.

And that’s why former chief Stewart Redsky was reduced to tears when federal Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, who visited the reserve Thursday, again refused to commit to building a road that would dramatically improve the quality of life of the residents.

Instead, in a breathtaking display of hypocrisy, Mr. Rickford repeated a pledge to spend $1 million on a design study for a road.

This is the same government that opposes an inquiry into missing and murdered women because, it says, nothing new would be learned. The case for a road — Freedom Road, the band calls it — was made many years ago and there is no doubt it is justified and necessary.

Yet Ottawa continues to dither and pussyfoot, forever avoiding action while promising a study.

The cost of the road could probably be split four ways between Winnipeg, Manitoba, Ontario and the federal government. It amounts to peanuts for each government, yet none of them is willing to stand up and take charge.

The federal government should be in the lead because it has a fiduciary duty to First Nations in general and on this issue in particular, since the aqueduct would never have proceeded without federal approval.

The City of Winnipeg, the direct beneficiary of the historic agreement, has been aware of problems on the reserve for many decades, yet it has done precious little to promote construction of a road.

Everyone bears some blame for the appalling situation, but after being called Canada’s most racist city, Winnipeggers ought to be pushing harder for a resolution. Mayor Brian Bowman has offered $2 million to help build a bridge at Shoal Lake, but it hasn’t been a civic priority.

One solution would be for Manitoba, Ontario and Winnipeg to spend $10 million each to get the road built as soon as possible. They could then demand cash from the federal government, rather than making the band suffer under the inertia of politics.

Right now, it looks like every level of government is content to dodge and weave. Manitoba says it will be there to help once Ottawa puts up its share. Right.

With no hope on the horizon, Freedom Road should become a federal election issue. The Council of Canadians and other advocacy groups have already taken up the cause.

Winnipeggers, too, should demand that candidates of every party take a stand for justice and basic human rights.


Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O'Brien, Shannon Sampert and Paul Samyn.


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Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.


Updated on Friday, June 26, 2015 at 4:31 PM CDT: Corrects Redsky's title.

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