A huge celebration took place in Shoal Lake 40 First Nation for the opening of Freedom Road.
Residents and out of town supporters gathered at the community centre help celebrate the road that is a long time coming.
For over a century, Shoal Lake 40 was left isolated on a man-made island because of an aquaduct built to provide Winnipeg with drinking water.
This week, that isolation has finally come to an end.
The community organized a four day celebration with a variety of activities from fish fries, to kids carnivals, to live bands.
“This is a huge change for my community, but we’ve been fighting for this for a long time,” says Chief Erwin Redsky.
A 24 kilometre all season road connects the First Nation to the mainland.
Redsky recalls the first time he drove on the completed road.
“So many people said that ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ it’s there. It’s real. It felt unbelievable and truly amazing.”
Jonelle Bruyere says her mother helped in the early stages of planning Freedom Road, while her father and brother assisted with the construction.
She’s happy residents no longer need to depend on an aging barge in the summer or a dangerous ice road in the winter to get in and out of the community.
“I don’t have to worry about my safety being jeopardized or my family members being jeopardized.”
Virginia Cook is an elder who grew up in Shoal Lake #39 First Nation, but now lives in Winnipeg.
When she heard about the celebration of Freedom Road, she knew she wanted to come and show support.
“I’m so happy for Shoal Lake 40, but on the other hand it a little bittersweet. Why did it have to take so long?” says Cook.
Seamus O’Regan, minister of Indigenous Services was on hand for the event.
He didn’t have a specific answer as to why the federal government took so long to assist the community, but said when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Shoal Lake 40 two years ago, he realized change need to be made.
“Now this road will allow us to bring construction materials in for a new water treatment plant and a new school, and that’s awesome. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m glad that day is finally here,” says O’Regan.
In a speech he made to community members and allies, he says the road is the first step towards reconciliation.
“We’re just looking forward to catching up with the rest of society with clean water and infrastructure.”