Shoal Lake 40 – Water and Reconciliation

Cropped cover of book Aqueduct by Adele Perry

The Shoal Lake 40 First Nation is suing the City of Winnipeg and the Federal Government for compensation for harms resulting from the building of the city’s water aqueduct.

The construction of the aqueduct left the community on a man-made island, cut off from access to the mainland. It meant being cut off from the possibility of jobs, cut off from access to healthcare, cut off from their land and resources they relied on.

While the building of Freedom Road, connecting the First Nation to Highway 1 just outside of Falcon Lake, was an important step for the community in terms of rebuilding, it was a long time coming.

The lawsuit says Winnipeg’s water system continues to affect Shoal Lake 40 to this day, infringing on areas that its members rely on for cultural and traditional practices, including hunting, fishing and trapping. 

That, in turn negatively affects the First Nation’s “ability to maintain its connection and relationship with the lands and waters in and around Shoal Lake, including members’ ability to pass on traditions, teachings, practices and cultural knowledge to younger generations,” the statement of claim says. 

The story of the building of Winnipeg’s aqueduct is an important bit of local history that is worth spending a bit of time delving into.

It is a story of water, as so many of our stories seem to be. The city often drew water from the Red River and Assiniboine Rivers in times of low ground water resources. That, in turn, would cause outbreaks of diseases such as cholera. The aqueduct to Shoal Lake solved many problems in terms of creating a safe and reliable water supply for the growing city.

Ironically, that created water quality problems for Shoal Lake. A problem only recently addressed by a new water treatment facility made possible by Freedom Road.

It is also a story of broken promises. The land set aside for Shoal Lake was, essentially, stolen. There were promises of compensation and assistance made by governments but they weren’t kept. It is no wonder that the people of Shoal Lake feel that they are due that compensation.

It is also a lesson in mindfulness in our relationship with water. With pressure on water in southeast Manitoba coming from multiple development projects, we need to slow down and consider the long term harms that can be done by our disrespectful treatment of water.

If anyone is interested in learning more about Winnipeg’s waterworks and the impact on Shoal Lake and other First Nations, the book Aqueduct, by Adele Perry is an informative read. It is not a large book, so won’t take long, but it it is a fascinating and important history of both water management and of why reconciliation is important.

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