Walk for Water: A follow up from Strut for Shoal
Our vision for Canada is… a world where all Canadians have reliable access to clean and safe drinking water.
It has been over 20 years since the community of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation has been under a boil water advisory. Ironically enough, this is the community that supplies the majority of Winnipeg with our potable water. Why is it that people living in the very community that supplies Winnipeg its water, have no access to clean drinking water? This was the striking question that two high school students from the Seven Oaks Met School found shocking and unacceptable. Meg Boehm (Gr. 11) and Eric Jasysyn (Gr. 12) decided to join together in an act of reconciliation with the community of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, creating a campaign to raise awareness about this water crisis and to encourage others to add to their noise and join their strut towards change. Water is a human right, and it is an injustice that so many Indigenous communities do not have access clean water.
For some background information on the Walk for Water, upon speaking to Lorne Redsky, a water technician of Shoal Lake 40, and hearing his children ask, “Is this water safe to drink?”, Boehm and Jasysyn decided to fuse their passions for fashion and music into a benefit night which occurred on March 1, 2019 at the Seven Oaks Performing Arts Center. The students organized speakers and elders, both from within their community and from Shoal Lake, to speak to the issues of the water crisis. One of the most glaring being that Shoal Lake 40 First Nation is only one of many First Nation communities in the nation under a boil water advisory. Meg and Eric rallied together students from every high school and one elementary school within the Seven Oaks School Division to model fashion designs, perform songs and to volunteer in various capacities throughout the night. This had been in the making for over a year and it truly was an amazing night of truth and reconciliation for change! The event raised over $7000 for the community of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, and spread awareness through media attention, various speaking events, and having petitions tabled by the Honourable MP Robert Falcon Ouellette. Eric and Meg have spoken about the crisis and their efforts at various schools in our school division and across the city, at different conferences, and to the media. Eric even spoke at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights as a keynote speaker for Project 180.
As a result of this campaign push, we are excited to announce that Shoal Lake 40 First Nation has been informed that they will be getting a water treatment plant in the near future! Though this is amazing news, the fight does not stop here. There is still so much to keep advocating for, with almost 100 other Indigenous communities under long term boil water advisories or facing unreliable access to safe drinking water. Water is a basic human right. To continue with their mandate, Eric and Meg are planning a Walk for Water on Friday, May 10 from 10:00 to 11:30 am to call the government to action.
The Walk for Water was held on Friday, May 10, 2019 in Winnipeg Manitoba. We had over 1000 participants registered for the Walk for Water including students of all ages from Seven Oaks School Division and other divisions in our city, Elder in Residence Dan Thomas, Honourable MP Robert Falcon Ouellette, Honourable MP Wab Kinew, Honourable MLA Bernadette Smith, Honourable MLA Nahanni Fontaine and members of the community of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. We walked from City Hall to Memorial Park via Portage Avenue some of our busiest streets, to ensure that we were heard and seen. There was an opening prayer and smudge in front of City Hall by Elder Dan and Luana Moar, a Grade 12 student at the Seven Oaks Met School. Throughout the walk and at the final destination participants had the chance to sign petitions in support of clean water for all Indigenous communities across Canada, purchase buttons to raise funds, sign ‘Water drops of hope for Shoal Lake’ and received information of ‘next steps’ towards continued advocacy and change. Upon arrival at Memorial Park, there will be speeches by Honoruable MLAs Nahanni Fontaine and Bernedette Smith, community members of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation and Eric Jasysyn, the co-founder of Strut for Shoal and event organizer for the Walk for Water.
We are happy to announce that we have gathered over 900 signatures for our two petitions and over $7000 to go towards the community of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. We have been able to spread the word of this injustice throughout our city and province through our social media, radio interviews with NCI FM, CBC News, TV interviews with CTV Morning Live and TV and newspaper coverage by the Winnipeg Sun, Winnipeg Free Press and City TV. However, this campaign is just beginning and we won’t stop until every Indigenous community in Canada has their basic right to water met.
As a note: We used the money from your grant to fund posters, food and water for the Walk for Water portion of our campaign
Reflection & Celebration
Our students learnt a great deal over the course of the two campaigns, in terms of both knowledge and skills. Time management, communication, collaboration, problem solving, empathy, advocacy and so much more. Our students learnt about the process of creating, distributing and tabling petitions to enact real change. They learnt about the history of injustice and systematic and outright racism Indigenous peoples of Canada face. They learnt about the strength that their voices can have; they are young but they are able to make change.
There were many different challenges over the course of the project but our students, with the help of teachers and administrators, were able to move beyond them. Success came in many forms from having our voices be a part of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation getting a water treatment plant, to educating over 1000 more people on the issue of water injustice, to raising money for our cause. Our hope is to have the younger students in our Social Justice club take over the project for future years, as the issue is still ongoing.