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Since Europeans arrived on these shores, roads have been built to bring settlers across the country, connect them with resources to create industry and ultimately to establish a nation. Many of these interconnecting networks are called Colonization Roads. For Indigenous peoples, these roads embody a powerful and ironic reality; colonization is still so powerful, we name our roads after it. Join Anishinaabe comedian, Ryan McMahon as he travels across Ontario learning about Colonization Roads, the ways in which they have dispossessed Indigenous people of land and access to traditional territories while creating space for settlers in the colonial experiment that has become Canada.
With his brand of hard-hitting comedy, Ryan speaks with well respected Indigenous and settler lawyers, historians, researchers and policy makers who provide history, context and solutions for colonization roads and their impact. Ryan will look at the history of the roads, from the first settlers lured by Free Land Grant advertisements to the treaties signed in the name of Indigenous sovereignty and nationhood with the newcomers.
Ryan learns from historians and lawyers how treaties are the foundation of Canadian law and how they articulate the relationship between Indigenous peoples and settlers. These agreements have been repeatedly broken by the state. The breaking of treaties has displaced and disenfranchised First Nations throughout what we now call Canada. While the term “reconciliation” is often bandied about, the people Ryan meets with shine light on just how difficult the realization of reconciliation can be.
While roads provide access and infrastructure to settlers throughout the country, there are First Nation communities whose absence of roads has been detrimental and even deadly. Ryan looks at one such community: Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, which was cut off from the mainland at the beginning of the 20th century when water was diverted from the lake to provide drinking water to the city of Winnipeg, turning their community into an island. The community has been on a boil water advisory since 1997 and is only accessible by a barge in the summer and ice roads over the lake in the winter. In the weeks during freeze up and break up, fall and spring respectively, the residents of Shoal Lake 40 risk their lives to collect their mail or travel for work or shop for groceries.
For years, the people of Shoal Lake 40 have been demanding that the federal, provincial and municipal governments invest in the building of a bridge and a road that would connect their community to the Trans Canada Highway. They have named it — Freedom Road. Ryan visits Shoal Lake 40 to hear first hand from community members and leaders, why Freedom Road is so essential to their community.
In the end, Colonization Road will provide insight into a system that has led not only to the growth of Canada, but the very real cost of that growth and how honouring the treaties, foundational to this place we all call home can lead to a decolonized Canada as long as the waters flow.