Broken ferry on Shoal Lake 40 leaves community in limbo

A barge that acts a lifeline for a First Nation without access to clean drinking water is broken leaving the community in limbo.

Boats moving people in lieu of ferry don't have life jackets

This barge is how people in Shoal Lake 40 connect with the outside world. It's been out of service for 11 days leaving the community in limbo. In the file photo above, Desmond Redsky, a deckhand, prepares the barge with dirt so a car can make it over to the mainland. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

A barge that acts a lifeline for a First Nation without access to clean drinking water is broken leaving the community in limbo.

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation's barge broke down 11 days ago.

Linda Redsky, a Shoal Lake 40 band member, said people in the community are now having to travel by boat to get out of the community, but the boat has no life jackets and only runs during the day.

"These boats that drive people back and forth they don't have life jackets for the kids, or for the adults for that matter," she told CBC.

"It is kind of stepping back for us, especially if we have kids, we have to get home before dark."

The Shoal Lake barge is the only way in during summer and fall for band members to get to and from their community, which straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border. In the winter, there is an ice road to the community, but people have fallen through and died while trying to cross.

The First Nation, which has been under a boil water advisory for 19 years, has been isolated from the mainland for more than a century.

Redsky said band members have to carry bottled water from the community's arena to a boat that's transporting people to and from Shoal Lake. 

The community is waiting for a new $16,000 motor to come from the United States to go on the barge, Redsky said, but it's not expected to arrive until Tuesday or Wednesday next week at the earliest.

Redsky said the barge has broken down before, but is usually fixed in a day or two  —  it's never been out of commission for this long.

"You can hear and feel the frustrations of the people in the community," Redsky said.

She added there's been no change in Shoal Lake since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's high-profile April visit to the community. ​

"We're still living the way we've been living," she said.

"I'm a little bit frustrated I guess when we have to continue living under these conditions."

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett's office hasn't responded to requests for comment.

The federal government is responsible for licensing the barge and inspecting it for safety. The barge last failed an inspection in 2015.