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CMU students reflect on their involvement with Freedom Road campaign

"It almost feels too good to be true."

That’s how Samantha Klassen feels now that the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba, and the Federal Government have voiced their support for the construction of a permanent road for Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.

Klassen, a second-year student at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), is a member of Students for Freedom Road, one of the grassroots organizations in Winnipeg advocating for just relations with Shoal Lake 40.

Shoal Lake 40 is an isolated reserve that straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border. The reserve was cut off from the mainland a century ago during construction of an aqueduct which sends fresh water to Winnipeg.

It has no all-weather road and its residents have lived under a boil-water advisory since the late 1990s—one of the longest boil-water advisories in Canadian history.

A road connecting Shoal Lake to the mainland would mean the reserve could start thinking about a water treatment plant and economic development.

Klassen, who is a co-director of the Peace and Sustainability Committee student group at CMU, wanted to get involved after hearing Winnipeg singer-songwriter Steve Bell talk about the cause in a chapel service at CMU in September.

The Peace and Sustainability Committee partnered with Witness Through Service, another student group on campus, to form Students for Freedom Road.

They soon partnered with Friends of Shoal Lake 40, a collective of community organizations working on the issue.

In addition to circulating petitions and attending rallies, a handful of CMU students were part of a delegation that traveled to the reserve on October 30 to meet Shoal Lake community members and better understand how the aqueduct that supplies Winnipeg with its drinking water has devastated the community.

The delegation also included Bell, seven city councillors, two aides, business leaders, and representatives from various advocacy groups.

For Klassen a sharing circle city councillors and community members participated in during the October 30 visit was particularly meaningful.

"I don’t think there’s anything that can replace taking the time to be present with each other," says Klassen, who wrote about her experience in The Doxa, CMU’s student newspaper. "It felt like a turning point. (It felt) huge, but also so simple."

Jim Cheng, a student in his final year of study at CMU who captured his experience on October 30 through a number of photographs, says getting involved with Students for Freedom Road and visiting Shoal Lake was an opportunity to apply what he’s learned in classes like Biblical Perspectives on Peace and Justice to everyday life.

"Often I feel like the stuff that I learn academically can only stay with me as head knowledge," Cheng says. "When I meet people, the information touches not only the head but the heart and the spirit."

Klassen, Cheng, and their peers are celebrating the commitments all three levels of government have made to build Freedom Road.

"The people of Shoal Lake 40 will at last have the chance to thrive in their own home," Klassen says. "Let this be a witness to all of the power of goodness to overcome evil, and the redemptive power of grace."

 
The barge transports the group from the mainland to the man-made island of Shoal Lake 40. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
The barge transports the group from the mainland to the man-made island of Shoal Lake 40. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
The group poses for a photo on the temporary bridge across the diversion canal. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
The group poses for a photo on the temporary bridge across the diversion canal. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
The Shoal Lake 40 community relies solely on bottled water for drinking, cooking, and bathing as a result of the boil-water advisory. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
The Shoal Lake 40 community relies solely on bottled water for drinking, cooking, and bathing as a result of the boil-water advisory. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
Chief Erwin Redsky speaks to the group on October 30. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
Chief Erwin Redsky speaks to the group on October 30. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
The group stands on the temporary bridge that was built two years ago. A permanent bridge is being constructed and will connect Freedom Road, which will join Hwy. #1 to the west of Shoal Lake 40. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
The group stands on the temporary bridge that was built two years ago. A permanent bridge is being constructed and will connect Freedom Road, which will join Hwy. #1 to the west of Shoal Lake 40. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
Stewart Redsky explains the history and geography of Shoal Lake 40. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
Stewart Redsky explains the history and geography of Shoal Lake 40. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
Visitors participate in the tour of the island on October 30. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
Visitors participate in the tour of the island on October 30. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
The Junior Chief and Junior Council members, dressed up for Halloween, spoke to the group in the community hall. They were shy but they welcomed the group and explained how they wish Freedom Road would get built.   (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
The Junior Chief and Junior Council members, dressed up for Halloween, spoke to the group in the community hall. They were shy but they welcomed the group and explained how they wish Freedom Road would get built.
(photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
Steve Bell speaks with Samantha Klassen.  (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
Steve Bell speaks with Samantha Klassen. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
Displaying t-shirts that get the message across. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
Displaying t-shirts that get the message across. (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
CMU students Rebecca Penner (from left), Erin Froese, Kelsey Wiebe, Edina-lil Preteau, Samantha Klassen, and Louisa Hofer pictured with singer-songwriter Steve Bell (far right) and Amy Knight (second from right). (photo credit: James Christian Imagery)
CMU students Rebecca Penner (from left), Erin Froese, Kelsey Wiebe, Edina-lil Preteau, Samantha Klassen, and Louisa Hofer pictured with singer-songwriter Steve Bell (far right) and Amy Knight (second from right). (photo credit: Aaron Epp)

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