What’s in a name? Manitoba government staying clear of ‘Freedom Road’ for now

Daryl Redsky: Maybe Manitoba would prefer “Colonization Road” instead of “Freedom Road”?

(Shoal Lake 40 First Nation members use a barge to transport goods, and themselves to and from the community. The barge is often out of service because of mechanical issues leaving people stranded. Photo: APTN)

Dennis Ward
APTN National News
For years, it’s been known as “Freedom Road” an all-weather road that would finally connect Shoal Lake 40 to the outside world.

The road got its name in 2003 courtesy of elder Bobby Blackhawk who described living on the man-made island like being imprisoned.

“It’s like being in Alcatraz,” he said. “The only way out is to the west. We need a road to the west a road to freedom.”

The Freedom Road would free the people of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation who currently live on an island, and are at the whims of the weather, and a barge that frequently breaks down.

The 24-kilometre project is one step closer to reality after the federal government confirmed it was willing to kick in an extra $10 million towards the road bringing its potential contribution to $20 million.

But now that the project is moving ahead, the name of the road is in questions because there is a refusal on the part of the new Manitoba government to use the name “Freedom Road.”

The previous NDP government, who had committed $10 million to the project had no problem referring to the lifeline as “Freedom Road” and neither has Winnipeg’s Mayor Brian Bowman. Shoal Lake has been the source of Winnipeg’s drinking water for nearly a century. City Council has committed $10 million dollars towards the project, as well.

The Manitoba government is instead referring to the project as “Shoal Lake Road.”

“It’s the same as any other project,” said Kalen Qually, spokesperson for the minister of Infrastructure. “Until there is actual construction that has occurred, it’s not something that would be considered. As with any other infrastructure project, it’s referred to as its project name.”

“I haven’t seen the sign but publicly, it’s referred to by Shoal Lake Road.”

Manitoba MLA Wab Kinew doesn’t agree.

“It is disrespectful to not use the term Freedom Road which is the name the community and its allies have been using all along,” said Kinew. “Given everything the community has suffered over the past 100 years, the government should honour their preferred term.”

Daryl Redsky, a member of Shoal Lake 40 and a consultation officer for the community wondered if the government would prefer to call it “Colonization Road” instead of “Freedom Road.”

Redsky said the community will continue to push for the name “Freedom Road.”

When asked about the naming of the road, the federal department of Indigenous Affairs responded by email saying “we are not going to comment.”

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Host, Producer / Winnipeg

Dennis is Metis from southern Manitoba. After spending a decade working in TV in Alberta and Ontario, Dennis returned to Manitoba to join APTN’s Winnipeg bureau as reporter/correspondent in September 2014. In 2016, he won a Canadian Association of Journalists award for his story A Soldier Scorned for APTN Investigates. In 2017, he became a host/producer for APTN National News and Face to Face. In 2020, Dennis and co host Melissa Ridgen were nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best News Anchor, National.