The use of water as a symbol of healing at Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights is "hugely ironic," according to Shoal Lake #40 First Nation.

Shoal Lake First Nation Chief Erwin Redsky

Shoal Lake First Nation Chief Erwin Redsky wrote an open letter to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights architect Antoine Predock, calling the museum a 'shrine to Canadian hypocrisy." (Shoal Lake First Nation/

The museum uses water from Winnipeg's municipal water supply, that is taken from Shoal Lake on the other side of the Ontario/Manitoba boundary.

"This particular water is not of that place," Shoal Lake's policy analyst Cuyler Cotton said. "This is not generic water."

"This is water that has been ripped from another watershed.This is water that belongs in another place and has been taken to this place for the benefit of others."

Museum 'not responsible for city services'

People from Shoal Lake were displaced about a century ago to make way for Winnipeg's water intake. 

Their land was flooded and their community turned into an island.

Cotton said Shoal Lake itself has not had safe drinking water for 18 years.

"It's so clearly an offence," he said.

The director of communications for the museum said people from Shoal Lake should raise their concerns directly with the city of Winnipeg.

Angela Cassie said the museum's architect "designed the building, he's not responsible for city services."

'Careful about everybody else's human rights record'

Cotton said the museum has been very careful to avoid human rights violators in all other aspects of the museum from building materials to souvenir t-shirt suppliers.

"It's a comment on who we are as a country. We really don't look at ourselves," he said. 

"We're very careful about everybody else's human rights record but when they (the museum) looked at the supply of water they didn't even bother to check on that," Cotton added.

Cassie said the museum is "going to be exploring the topic of access to clean drinking water in our exhibit contents to make people aware" of concerns in First Nations.

She added, however, that the particular concerns of Shoal Lake will not be addressed in the exhibit.


  • A previous version of this story referred to a "water exhibit." While water is used for practical purposes, and as part of a garden feature in the museum, there is no distinct water exhibit.
    Jun 03, 2014 12:31 PM ET