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Journey to Shoal Lake

A group of students from Hugh John Macdonald and R.B. Russell Vocational High schools recently had the opportunity to journey to the source of Winnipeg’s water supply: Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, Ontario.

The trip was part of the Careers that Fight Climate Change program, an experiential and mentorship learning program that is the result of a partnership with University of Manitoba, Menno Simons College, Immigration Partnership Winnipeg and WSD. The program connects Indigenous and Newcomer youth with university student mentors and offers first-hand introductions into climate change-related careers.

As part of the Shoal Lake visit, students were able to assist university science students as they measured nitrate and phosphate levels, as well as collecting water samples to test for bacteria and other stressors.

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“The real world experience of coming out and doing this testing shows that this is not just an academic or theoretical process, there’s a practical application,” said Paul Clarke, Community Support Worker at R.B. Russell. “There are people living on Shoal Lake 40 and they need fresh water to drink. This brings home all of the elements of Education for Sustainable Development.”

Shoal Lake 40 currently has to import water by barge or truck at a considerable cost due to ongoing concerns over water quality. The First Nation is unable to build a water treatment plant due to costs and logistics related to its unique location. Shoal Lake 40 is a man made island, the result of the reservoir created for Winnipeg’s water supply.

“It’s made the community dependent on ice roads in the winter and the barge in the summer,” said Anny Chen, a Community Service Learning Coordinator at the University of Manitoba.

The ice roads are very much affected by climate variances, while the barge (which connects to a dock on Shoal Lake/Iskatewizaagegan 39 First Nation on the mainland) is also prone to delays.

“Ironically, today as we speak, we are stuck on Shoal Lake 39, waiting for the barge to come across as there is currently a load stuck on it on the island side,” Ms. Chen said. “This really represents just the tiniest of glimpses into what people on Shoal Lake 40 deal with every day of the year.”

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Fortunately for the students, they were able to cross after a relatively short delay; but the community has many challenges day-to-day.

“They don’t get as many privileges with water as we get in Winnipeg,” said student Aduk Maciek.

The field trip was another way to explore the connection of people with their environment.

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“We’re talking a lot about the interdependence of people and the land,” said Jobb Arnold, Assistant Professor in Conflict Resolution Studies at Menno Simons College. “The fact that Winnipeg relies on Shoal Lake 40 for its water is a tangible demonstration of that interdependence.”

Students said they appreciated the opportunity to spend a fall day in a community vastly different than their own.

“I really liked this experience, going outside and learning,” said student Gabby Corbillon.

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The program’s other field trips included student visits to: the Lower Fort Garry Historic Site to look at interdependence, treaty and ecology; the Social Enterprise Centre to examine renewable energy; and Metanoia Farmer’s Cooperative at the Canadian Mennonite University to look at seed saving and community agriculture.

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