Clean water advocates set up 'water bar' in downtown Winnipeg, offer glasses of brown, murky water

The Friends of Shoal Lake 40 were in Winnipeg today to offer samples of dirty water to the lunch-time crowd in a downtown skywalk. They hope to raise awareness about the lack of access to clean drinking water in many First Nations communities.

Friends of Shoal Lake 40 served dirty water to show lack of clean drinking water on First Nations

Jacquie Nicholson, a member of Friends of Shoal Lake 40, offered up a sample of polluted water to people as they passed through a downtown Winnipeg skywalk. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The Friends of Shoal Lake 40 were in Winnipeg today to offer samples of dirty water to the lunch-time crowd at a downtown sky-walk. They hoped to raise awareness about the lack of clean drinking water in many First Nations communities.

"Not everyone has access to clean drinking water. In Winnipeg, we are gifted with the ability to have great water right out of the tap. But in Shoal Lake 40 for example, the source of Winnipeg's water, they've been under a boil-water advisory over 19 years now," said Jon Benson, who is a member of the group.

The event was held today in honour of World Water Day, which happens to be on the same day city hall will decide if it will increase its contribution to "Freedom Road," which will connect Shoal Lake 40 to the Trans-Canada Highway.

The mock water samples were made to represent what the water from Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows First Nation) and Shoal Lake 40 looks like.
Jon Benson says Shoal Lake 40 First Nation must to truck-in their bottled water over winter roads, which adds up to an 'astronomical' cost to the community. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"The water that we're serving here today isn't actual water from there because it's not a good idea to have anyone even thinking that they can drink it," said Benson.

"We created some waters that are very brown and murky, full of sediment. Which is what folks in those communities have to call water," he said.

Volunteers dressed as waiters offered up samples of dirty water to people in the sky-walk. They also provided information and asked people to sign a card that will be sent to the federal government to lobby for better access to clean drinking water.
The display included mock water samples from Shoal Lake 40 and Grassy Narrows First Nations to show what the tap water looks like in those communities living with a boil-water advisory. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"We have 117 First Nation communities in Canada that are under boil-water advisories, and we have 7 in Manitoba," said Sharon Redsky, an off-reserve member of Shoal Lake 40.

"There's huge implications to that. There's health issues, there's human rights issues, so it's really important they we are raising awareness about it," said Redsky.

"Why don't they just move?"

It costs Shoal Lake 40 $130,000 per year to haul in bottled water, for a community of just 275 people.

"It's astronomical and it's unsustainable," said Benson.

The community was cut off from mainland after land was expropriated to build the aqueduct for Winnipeg. The man-made island is only accessible by boat or winter roads.
Sharon Redsky says 'Freedom Road' will not only allow year round access to the community, but will create opportunity and an economy. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Many of the people who stopped to ask questions wondered why the people don't just move away. A question that Redsky says is very common.

"People forget that 100 years ago, the city [of Winnipeg] was having issues with water. People were getting sick, kids were getting rashes. The city didn't just pack up and leave, they looked for an alternative," she said.

"For 100 years the community has been sacrificing their lives...I think it's time we step up as Winnipeggers and do the right thing," said Redsky.