More than 100 years ago land was expropriated from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation so water could be diverted to the city of Winnipeg, effectively stranding the community on an artificial island.
Angelina McLeod of Shoal Lake captures the impact in Freedom Road – a five-part documentary series that shares the community’s struggles and resiliency.
“I want people to realize and to take away from this screening what happens at the other end of the pipe in Shoal Lake First Nation…for Winnipeggers to have clean drinking water,” she said in an interview.
Freedom Road kicked off the Gimme Some Truth documentary festival in Winnipeg this week.
“It was really a way to showcase the power of documentary as a unique medium and as an art form,” said festival programmer David Knipe.
Because community members were cut off from the mainland, the only way to get in and out was by barge that broke down often.
In winter months, residents had to drive across an ice road, putting their lives in danger.
Community member Nancy Rice recalls one experience when the ice cracked and two wheels went under.
“I almost went through; that was a close call,” Rice recalls in the documentary. “I was with my grandson at the time. He was yelling, ‘Get out grandma, get out!'”
Yet no matter the risk or danger, Rice still continued to navigate the ice road. Community members had no choice. There was no other way to get to the Trans-Canada Highway; to attend medical appointments, shopping, high school or post-secondary education.
“When we were filming we had trouble actually crossing the ice or even just crossing [in the summer] because the barge was broken down,” she said.
“That happened to us once or twice,” recalls McLeod.
In June 2019, the community celebrated the completion of Freedom Road, which eliminated the need for an ice road or barge.
But it still relies on bottled water.
“To just continue building, there’s a lot of infrastructure that the community needs – housing for one thing, water lines, water services. So it’s just catching up to the rest of Canada,” says Daryl Redsky.
Freedom Road is available to stream for free now on nfb.ca and YouTube.