Shaol Lake Canadian Museum of Human Rights Violations

Dur­ing the grand open­ing of the Cana­dian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), the Shoal Lake No. 40 First Nations com­munity launched their own liv­ing museum—the Museum of Cana­dian Human Rights Violations—to raise the public’s aware­ness of water issues and human rights viol­a­tions faced daily in their com­munity.

The First Nations com­munity sought to edu­cate Win­nipeg­gers about its day-to-day struggles access­ing water, as a res­ult of their sys­tem­at­ic com­munity dis­place­ment, isol­a­tion, and exclu­sion from water in order to sup­ply the City of Win­nipeg with drink­ing water.

His­tory of human rights viol­a­tions

In 1914, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment per­mit­ted Win­nipeg to expro­pri­ate over 3,000 acres of the reserve’s land and divert water from Shoal Lake to the urb­an centre. Shoal Lake No. 40 First Nation Chief Erwin Red­sky described to the Man­ito­ban how First Nations com­munit­ies were phys­ic­ally dis­placed from tra­di­tion­al vil­lages where drink­ing water was loc­ated and excluded from water infra­struc­ture devel­op­ment.

In 1919, Win­nipeg built an aque­duct along under­ground pipes to divert water from Shoal Lake, Ont. to sup­ply to the city.To this day, clean water is widely inac­cess­ible in the Shoal Lake region. Shoal Lake No. 40 has been liv­ing under a boil water advis­ory for 17 years.

Accord­ing to Red­sky, res­id­ents struggle to access resources for sur­viv­al on the arti­fi­cial island—previously a pen­in­sula, but re-con­struc­ted in order to build the aqueduct—surrounded by con­tam­in­ated water.

“The museum has opened up their museum, and we’re open­ing ours, too – the Museum of Cana­dian Human Rights Viol­a­tions.”

Call to action

canadian museum of human rights violations 2Cit­izens of Shoal Lake No. 40 First Nation held a protest camp on the grounds out­side the CMHR dur­ing the course of the museum’s grand open­ing cere­mon­ies to draw atten­tion to their dir­ect call to action.

As part of their call to action, an inform­a­tion­al pamph­let cre­ated by the Price of Water group and dis­trib­uted by mem­bers of Shoal Lake No. 40 reads:

“The people of Shoal Lake Num­ber 40 First Nation have been relo­cated and isol­ated, so Win­nipeg can have fresh, clean drink­ing water.”

In regards to the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights (UDHR) Art­icle 23, the pamph­let reads: “Meet real people strug­gling to sur­vive with little hope of devel­op­ment in a severely restric­ted des­ig­nated area.”

And, in response to the UDHR Art­icles 25 and 26: “Loads of inad­equate shel­ter and ser­vices – vis­it your choice of dilap­id­ated home or infra­struc­ture (school, day care, offices).”

The pamph­let includes a pho­to­graph of a fam­ily trans­port­ing gro­cer­ies and drink­ing water from the gro­cery store on the main­land by foot and by sled across the thinly frozen ice path con­nect­ing their com­munity on the island to the main­land.

“Risk your life access­ing the museum: level of risk may vary by sea­son and weath­er,” the pamph­let reads below the pho­to­graph.

For sug­ges­tions about how to get there, the pamph­let reads, “Begin at the CMHR in down­town Win­nipeg, [ … ] fol­low the ‘heal­ing waters’ sup­ply pipe to its source at Shoal Lake No. 40 First Nation.”

The pamph­let dir­ectly refers to the United Nations Declar­a­tion on the Rights of Indi­gen­ous Peoples in order to denounce daily viol­a­tions of the rights to clean water, safety, secur­ity, and the neces­sit­ies of life in Shoal Lake No. 40.

Red­sky and Wapi­oke both dis­cussed the need for aware­ness about the mis­use of water, water diver­sions, and the situ­ation faced by those resid­ing in the Shoal Lake region.

Red­sky said, “The first ques­tion I ask people [in the city] is, ‘Where do you get your water from?’”

Part­ner­ing with oth­er First Nations com­munit­ies on the water issue is one of Shoal Lake No. 40 First Nation’s main pri­or­it­ies. The com­munity has been devel­op­ing alli­ances with Treaty 1 and Treaty 5 groups that have been flooded due to mis­use of that water.

“Water is a part of all of us. Water is going to con­nect all of us togeth­er [ … ] We don’t have clean water; [there­fore] we don’t have oppor­tun­it­ies. Water is life; all we want is life.

“We want to let [Win­nipeg­gers] know what is going on at the oth­er end of the pipe,” Red­sky said, allud­ing to an ongo­ing water dis­pute between the City of Win­nipeg and First Nations com­munit­ies resid­ing in the Shoal Lake region.

“Most of all,” Red­sky con­tin­ued, “We just want to be con­nec­ted to [the rest of] Canada – that’s our first and fore­most solu­tion as an isol­ated com­munity.”

Oppor­tun­it­ies for change

At the grand open­ing cere­mon­ies, CMHR Board of Trust­ees mem­ber Wilton Littlech­ild made a speech about the CMHR as part of a “jour­ney on the hope­ful path for peace­ful coex­ist­ence” and presen­ted the museum as an oppor­tun­ity to call for action.

Based on the United Nations Declar­a­tion on the Rights of Indi­gen­ous Peoples estab­lished in 2007 as the frame­work for action, the oppor­tun­ity he spoke of included indi­gen­ous views and per­spect­ives in devel­op­ment pro­jects.

Dur­ing his speech, Littlech­ild spoke about the UDHR’s incep­tion in 1948:

“The indi­gen­ous peoples were not rep­res­en­ted, and we [the First Nations] were left out. It took us a long time to gain recog­ni­tion as people of the United Nations – as human beings with human rights.

“Just last week as we were com­mem­or­at­ing, some state alleg­a­tions were still deny­ing indi­gen­ous people and deny­ing the recog­ni­tion of rights of indi­gen­ous people. So, while we’ve come a long way, there is a long way to go.

“One of the most power­ful oppor­tun­it­ies for change will be the museum and the role that it will play in edu­ca­tion and dia­logue,” Littlech­ild added. “We will have oppor­tun­it­ies to learn that treaty rights are human rights, that treat­ies are a solu­tion, and that we are all treaty people.”

Littlech­ild stressed the sig­ni­fic­ance of the museum for provid­ing a chance “to build on the strength of our peoples and com­mit to a bet­ter Canada where the human rights of all peoples are hon­oured and respec­ted.”

“We are not attack­ing the museum – we are tar­get­ing the gov­ern­ments that have put us in this situ­ation,” said Red­sky, address­ing his community’s pos­i­tion on the museum.

“Our friends from the museum keep sup­ply­ing us [at the protest camp] with food and wood – they under­stand us. We want more people to under­stand.

“Here’s an oppor­tun­ity to bring our stor­ies [out into] the open.”
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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.

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