THE 10-MINUTE INTERVIEWS
First Nation water
'WE WANT TO BE A PART OF CANADA', CHIEF REDSKY, SHOAL LAKE 40
An interview with Chief Erwin Redsky of the Shoal 40 First Nation
The Shoal Lake 40 First Nation has lived in isolation for the last 100 years; and been under Boil water advisory for the last 18 years. Chief Redsky tells us why.
Transcription: rokilamb - fiverr.com
Water Today - If I understand this correctly you're the Chief of the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. And let's talk about water. How come you've come to this point where people in your band have no drinking water?
Chief Redsky - Well, that's a long story. Let's go back 100 years. You ready for this?
[00:01:02.12 Water Today - I am
Chief Redsky - Okay, you know, we're part of the initial treaty that was signed in 1873, Treaty 3. We've always lived and occupied the land at the mouth of the Falcon River, that's where, for thousands of years we've lived and occupied that land. After treaty, you know, the Indian Act was created by government of Canada. And subsequent to that, reserves were created, so where we lived, they created a reserve called Shoal Lake number 40 First Nation. It was a mainland community and shortly after the reserves were created in the early 1900's, the city of Winnipeg decided to draw water from Shoal Lake. But in order to get that, they needed the authorizations from Ontario, IJC, and finally Canada. So in 1913 the city of Winnipeg got the Ontario order in council authorizing diversion of Shoal Lake water, to the city of Winnipeg. And subsequent to that, IJC, International Joint Commission, gave a similar authorization because Shoal Lake is connected to Lake of the Woods and Lake of the Woods is part of san international body of water. So that's why the IJC is there.
And then finally in 1915 the government of Canada expropriated our reserve land and gave it to the city of Winnipeg. Over 3,000 acres of land was taken, or stolen, without our permission. And they've occupied that land ever since. So finally in 1918 they built this pipe from my community to the city of Winnipeg. It’s 100 miles of pipe, because Shoal Lake is 350 feet higher in elevation than the city of Winnipeg, so it's a natural gravity flow. So in order to take our reserve, our community was displaced and put on this man-made island for the past 100 years. And ever since then, we've no access. Just to get there 'cause we have to come across a 'no trespassing' sign because our reserve was cut in three pieces as part of the expropriation, so we've lived under forced isolation for the past 100 years. So we have no clean water. We have no access here. It's a human rights violation and we've been living this for the past 100 years. And we don't have clean water to drink. You know, we did the feasibility study in 1998 and we were at a design phase of a water treatment plant, but in 2010 Canada decided, you know, it's too expensive to serve so few people.
[00:03:43.05] Water Today - Chief Redsky, who exactly decided it was too expensive?
Chief Redsky - Government of Canada, aboriginal affairs (ANAC), Indian affairs back then (INAC), but they said...
[00:03:52.22] Water Today - So they just say "Okay we're not going to do this, too bad"?
Chief Redsky - Yes, we went through the hoops of the process of getting some, trying to get clean water out here. You know feasibility study. You know, the government of Canada's three step process; feasibility study, design, and finally construction. And we were on design, we've hauled gravel to the man-made island in preparation for the construction, but just out of the blue, the government of Canada decided it's too expensive and it's to serve too few people And yet, they're the ones that created the problem to begin with. You know, they took our land, stole our land, and gave it to the city and people have been leaving ever since. People can't live under these conditions. So people leave and we're funded by the number of people that are on reserve for everything, for housing, so...
[00:04:43.05] Water Today - So what happens is, as the situation gets worse, more people leave, as more people leave you get less money. And you get this money from aboriginal affairs, do you?
Chief Redsky - Aboriginal affairs Canada where most of our programs are funded based on reserve population. But while most first nations across Canada are 60, 70, 65% on reserve, we're the opposite. We're 40% on reserve because of our forced isolation. There's no hope for economic development here because of the forced isolation, and there's no hope for clean water now, there's no hope for anything. So people are leaving, and yet, that's why the government of Canada decided to pull our water treatment plant, because it’s too expensive for too few people, yet they're the ones that created the problem.
[00:05:31.12] Water Today - So do you get, at this point, do you get bottled water? Can you give me a sense as to where your water comes from now?
Chief Redsky - Yeah, our water, we've been under boiled water order for the past 17, almost 18 years now. We bring, we ship our bottled water from Kenora almost on a daily, weekly basis so people can have clean water to drink. That's where our drinking water comes from.
[00:05:54.26] Water Today - From Kenora?
Chief Redsky - From Kenora, bottled water.
[00:05:57.03] Water Today - And do the feds pay for that, or do you pay for that?
Chief Redsky - Well, we haven't received any funds for the past couple years, but they usually reimburse us for the bottled water, but we haven't received anything for three years, and yet it costs money to ship and handle this bottled water and they don't support us on that either. They don't support us on the barge ferry service that we need to connect to the outside world. It's not funded by anybody. So we have to use whatever little resources we have to pay for the barge ferry, to pay for that water that we need to drink.
[00:06:32.20] Water Today - Let me ask you a couple of questions. Some of the inspiration for this interview came from the article I read yesterday. I think it was in the Global & Mail. There was no denying the comments that I read below the article, often these comments are more insightful than the article itself. Some of what I read was things like "well, if it really is that bad why don't you move?" This is what seemed to be...
Chief Redsky - Moving is not an option. We've lived and occupied this land for the past 1,000 years. We are not going anywhere. This is our land. This is our water. We are not going anywhere.
[00:07:15.07] Water Today - Okay, so having said that, what's your plan going forward with less and less people on the rez? What do you do now? If you're the chief, what do you do?
Chief Redsky - We want to be connected to Canada. We want to be part of Canada. We want to respect the spirit of intent of our treaties; we wanted to share the land and resources, the rich resources. This is not what we envisioned as we signed the treaty, to be left out of Canada. The first step is let's connect to the rest of the world.
[00:07:49.13] Water Today - With a bridge and a road?
Chief Redsky - Freedom road... Freedom road is what we want. We want support. We want the full commitment and support for freedom road from the three levels of government so one third, one third, and one third. It happens all over the place.
[00:08:03.13] Water Today - Can you tell me what freedom road is?
Chief Redsky - Freedom road is to connect us to the outside world. Freedom road is a project that we really want to get done. That's the first step. 'Cause with freedom road, maybe we can afford a water treatment plant, because without access it's,… for example, you're handling one load of gravel three times before you actually use it to get to this island. But freedom road will bring opportunities to my community; will bring clean water to my community, because we’ll have access to the Trans-Canada highway. There will be hope for economic development; there'll be hope for clean water and everything. We want to be part of Canada. That's the intent of our treaties.
[00:08:43.27] Water Today - Chief Redsky thanks for doing this
Chief Redsky - Thank you