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They’re Sunk: First Nation Declares Emergency as Broken Ferry Severs Mainland Connection

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, whose lake supplies Winnipeg with drinking water, is cut off from the mainland by a broken ferry, even as it needs water.
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First they were removed to the far end of a peninsula. Then they were cut off when an aqueduct was built to carry drinking water to Winnipeg, making the peninsula an island. Now their ferry has failed inspection, and they’re sunk.

Shoal Island 40 First Nation declared a state of emergency on April 30 after the ferry they rely on for connection to the mainland failed its inspection, the Canadian Press reported.

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation is an Ojibwa or Ontario Saulteaux First Nation, according to its website, and belongs to the Grand Council of Treaty 3. While 568 people are enrolled in the First Nation, 266 of them live in the community.

The reserve, which lies across the border of Manitoba and Ontario, has been under a boil-water advisory for 18 years, the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) reported, having been cut off from the mainland nearly a century ago when authorities built an aqueduct to carry fresh drinking water from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg. The community is now unable to receive its own supply of water, which must be trucked in. Community leaders have said enough is enough.

“We have been living in forced isolation for too many years,” Chief Erwin Redsky told the Kenora Daiy Miner & News on Friday May 1. “Our last lifeline to the outside world is down now and we can’t bring in emergency health services or water.”

During the freezing winter months, a temporary bridge installed two years ago connects Shoal Island 40 to a winter road that in turn leads to the TransCanada Highway, the Kenora Daily Miner & News said.

What is needed, Redsky told the Canadian Press, is an all-weather road, which Shoal 40 has been lobbying for over the past several years. Manitoba, Winnipeg and the federal government need to commit to it, Redsky told the Canadian Press. So far each branch has put $1 million toward feasibility and design studies. Actually building the road would cost about $30 million, the Canadian Press said.

The office of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt told APTN News that its emergency management team is in contact with the community and poised to help with assistance if needed.

“We are also working with the First Nation and Health Canada to ensure that residents have access to medical services,” a spokesperson for his office told APTN News in a statement.

People are using personal craft to access the mainland, the Kenora Daily Minor & News noted, but garbage and liquid waste are accumulating, the Canadian Press said.

"We have elders at risk," Redsky said. "We’ve been cut off for 100 years and we've barely been hanging on by our fingernails. Loss of water delivery, health services and vehicle access threatens our very survival. This injustice needs to end."