WINNIPEG — A crowdfunding campaign to help pay for an all-weather road for a reserve under one of the longest boil-water advisories in Canada has fallen short of its lofty goal, but supporters say they will continue the fight.
The 90-day fundraising campaign failed to bring in the desired $10 million and instead garnered $101,000 from just over 1,000 donors. Because the goal wasn’t reached, no money will change hands.
The intent was to raise enough money to pay the federal government’s share of a permanent road for the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation on the Manitoba-Ontario boundary.
The reserve was cut off from the mainland a century ago during construction of an aqueduct to send clean water to Winnipeg. The Shoal Lake community has been under a boil-water advisory for 17 years due to a dam which funnels tainted water away from the aqueduct and towards the reserve.
Rick Harp, who organized the crowdfunder, said the fight for Shoal Lake 40 will continue.
“What the campaign has achieved is a greater level of awareness about where Winnipeg gets its water from and the price that’s been paid by the people who live at the source of Winnipeg’s water,” he said.
“Water is a human right.”
Without a permanent road, residents rely on an aging barge in the summer and a treacherous ice road in the winter. Every year, people fall through the ice trying to make it to their front door. Some have died.
Residents were left in tears in June when Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, who is also the local Conservative MP, visited the reserve, but refused to commit to seeing a road built.
Chief Erwin Redsky said an all-weather road would not only mean people could get home safely. It would mean garbage could be removed from the man-made island and a water treatment plant could become more affordable.
“It’s a matter of survival for my community,” Redsky said. “We’ve been blockaded for 100 years and we want to break free. We want to build Freedom Road. It means everything.”
Both Manitoba and Winnipeg have said they will pay for one-third each of the road’s construction if Ottawa kicks in the rest of the estimated $30-million cost. The federal Liberal party and the NDP have promised to fund the road if elected in October.
Public pressure is mounting. Outgoing Conservative MP Joy Smith held a news conference to call on the government to ensure the road’s construction. A multi-faith coalition held 10 days of action in July to support the reserve, including a “road-like” letter signed by supporters and sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Churches across Canada are uploading photos of their outdoor signs declaring support for the reserve to a website. A collage of the signs is to be sent to every Canadian MP.
Canadian Christian musician Steve Bell has written a song dedicated to the First Nation and has gathered 7,100 signatures petitioning Ottawa to right what he calls a historic wrong. A “water walk” in support of the First Nation is planned for the Manitoba legislature Sept. 12.
The reserve’s plight may be getting a lot of attention but that hasn’t resulted in concrete action.
“Creating awareness doesn’t build a road,” Redsky said.