A Winnipeg multi-faith group is launching a series of events aimed at getting the word out about the challenges faced by residents of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.
Shoal Lake, which provides Winnipeg with its drinking water, straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border. It has been under a boil-water advisory for 17 years — one of the longest such advisories currently in place in Canada.
The First Nation also doesn't have an all-weather road connecting it to the outside world.
"We think that there's a lot of people in Winnipeg who are really angry about the fact that the Harper government has not funded this road," said Lynda Trono with the West Broadway Community Ministry. "We've benefited from clean water for a hundred years."
The ministry has organized a campaign they hope will pressure the federal government into paying for a road for the community, dubbed "Freedom Road".
The city of Winnipeg, the government of Manitoba and the federal government have each pitched $1 million into a design study of the proposed road plans. But whereas the city and the province have both committed to contribute to the project, the federal government has thus far refused, in principal, to fund construction of the road.
That's where "10 Days for Shoal Lake" comes in. Faith groups in the city are hosting events to raise awareness about the plights of the First Nation.
The campaign got its start at the Winnipeg Grand Mosque, where people signed an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling for clean water for Shoal Lake 40.
"In Islam, water is a community right," said Tasneem Valie. "It can't be owned by anyone and everybody should have access to it."
During the campaign, people are also being invited to sign a giant card — painted by artist Manju Lodha — intended to acknowledge and thank the First Nation for what it has done for Winnipeg.
"The boards say 'thank you' to the people of the Shoal Lake for our water," said Manju Lodha. "We should be very thankful to them, Winnipeggers especially, because that is where our water comes from."
The multi-faith campaign isn't the only group trying to get the road built. Winnipegger Rick Harp has been trying to raise the $10 million needed to build Freedom Road for the past few weeks through a crowdfunding initiative he started.
There is also an online petition calling on the federal government to pay for the road. It collected almost 6,000 signatures in its first few days.