Hundreds of people rallied on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature with water jugs in hand on Monday.
The rally was in support of an all-weather road build out of Shoal Lake First Nation, a community east of Winnipeg that supplies the city's water.
Currently, the only way to Shoal Lake is by boat or, in the winter, by crossing the ice. Chief Erwin Redsky, of Shoal Lake First Nation, said his community can't drink their own water and has no economic opportunities.
Chief Redsky said they are currently in the design phase with the province and the city for the road to be built.
Redsky said the community has suffered for more than a century by providing water to Winnipeg. Shoal Lake was flooded and cut off from the mainland so that Winnipeg could source its water.
Mayor Brian Bowman and Chief Redsky were at the rally Monday and took part in a water ceremony before meeting to discuss plans for the community.
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“Really look forward to the conversation, not just today, but in the months and the years to come, where we can increase the respect and increase the prosperity,” said Bowman.
Community members have spoken out before about poor conditions in Shoal Lake — and expressed frustration with the fact that Winnipeg gets its water from Shoal Lake, while the First Nation is frequently under boil water advisories.
“It doesn’t seem fair and it doesn’t seem right,” said Moses Falco, who helped organize the rally. “It seems like we should have dealt with this a long time ago. One hundred years have passed, and it still isn’t fixed.”
Falco said he couldn’t believe the state Shoal Lake community members were forced to live in.
“I was shocked to see that there are people living on the other end of this pipe from which we get our water that don’t get the privileges we do,” said Falco. “It’s at the expense of this community that we get all our water.”
Steve Heinrichs, a rally organizer, said when he discovered he was drinking water from Shoal Lake First Nation he wanted to make it right. He wants to see Shoal Lake get the road, and reconciliation from the city, the province and the federal government.
“With contrite hearts, we say we want to do better and we're not only going to repair the damage, but we're going to go above and beyond, because the relationship has been fractured for so long,” said Heinrichs.
It's not clear when the road might be built. In the meantime, the band is offering tours to anyone who wants to see the impact of Winnipeg's water needs for themselves.