Hundreds of people gathered for the Winnipeg Water Walk to support the construction of an all-season access road to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.
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The road to the water-locked community, known as Freedom Road, is estimated to cost roughly $30 million. Both the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba have committed to splitting the cost of the road three ways — but the third partner, the federal government, has yet to agree to such a project.
The Conservative federal government has committed $1 million to the design study for the project, stipulating that once the costs are determined, further discussions regarding the funding of the road can take place.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair have pledged their support for the road if they are elected on Oct. 19.
"The provincial government remains steadfast in its commitment to share in building this road. I recently spoke with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who also expressed our shared concern with the people from Shoal Lake 40. They deserve to see this project move forward as quickly as possible," Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said.
"If everybody just came to the table with 10 million dollars we could just proceed and get it done."
At the walk Saturday, Selinger told the crowd that he plans to set aside the province's $10 million share in the next budget.
The march started at noon behind the Manitoba Legislative Building and headed to Stephen Juba Park. It was organized by Kobra Rahimi, who was herself born in an Iraqi refugee camp.
"You would never think that there are people in Canada who don't have access to drinking water, because it's Canada. So many people look to come here, so many people look to come here because of our basic rights. Water is a very, very basic right," Rahimi said.
People coming to the march were told to wear blue, the colour of water, and bring something that demonstrated how Winnipeggers use water from the Shoal Lake area in their everyday lives, such as a shower head or a sprinkler.
The First Nation, which straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border, was cut off from the mainland more than a century ago when an aqueduct was built to supply Winnipeg with fresh water. While clean water flows down the aqueduct, murky water is diverted to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation; they have been under a boil-water advisory for 17 years — one of the longest advisories in Canada to date.