SHOAL LAKE, Ont. — Kavin Redsky is pushing a front-loader trying to keep garbage off the road.
Down the street, untreated raw sewage is seeping into the ground.
“This is our main road,” Redsky says. ”It’s pretty nasty eh?”
Sewage leakage on Shoal Lake 40 and the absence of clean drinking water are two of several issues documented in a 92-page report Human Rights Watch is set to release Tuesday in Toronto.
The New York-based human rights watchdog’s report titled, “Make It Safe: Canada’s Obligation to End the First Nations Water Crisis,” has found tainted water and broken septic systems are “jeopardizing” health for First Nations people living on five reserves in Ontario.
In Shoal Lake 40, families are using bleach in baths, children are growing up without clean water, and sewage is leaking into the community’s only water source, according to the report.
“The septic fields, the tanks, the pumps, everything is failing,” said Chief Erwin Redsky.
The human rights group said the federal government’s failure to provide First Nations with water and septic systems that are on par with what other Canadians enjoy is “discriminatory and violates the rights of First Nations persons to equality before the law.”
It also said the water crisis is impeding on First Nations’ cultural rights recognized by international law.
“The water crisis is the result of years of discrimination compounded by lack of accountability,” said Amanda Klasing, the Human Rights Watch researcher, who penned the report.
Shoal Lake 40, located near the Manitoba-Ontario border, was severed from the mainland a century ago during the construction of an aqueduct to carry fresh water to the City of Winnipeg.
While clean water flows into Winnipeggers’ taps, members of the First Nation have been under a boil water advisory for 18 years — an irony that has brought national attention to the issue of water access on First Nation communities.
Metro visited the reserve last week and spotted green liquid sewage dumped in grass just steps off of the community’s main road, where homes are located at the end.
Garbage left by community members, who have nowhere else to take it, was also seen floating in ditches and spread across the main road.
“It’s not pretty,” said Stewart Redsky, who is a community social worker.
Redsky said Shoal Lake 40’s sewer truck operator is embarrassed to show visitors the sewage that Metro found.
“He says himself ‘I don’t want to show anybody what we are forced to do,’’ he said.
Redsky said many visitors who come to Shoal Lake 40 come thinking the reserve’s problems have been corrected, but the community’s struggles are far from over.
“I actually get a little bit emotionally stirred up when people come in with that perception,” he said.
“It’s just the beginning.”
In April, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent a day touring Shoal Lake, but Chief Redsky said despite the high-profile visit, nothing’s changed.
“We’re still isolated. Our road’s still not passable right now,” he said.
“We can’t dispose of our waste. We’re on this artificial island with nowhere to take it.”
But still, Redsky said he remains optimistic about his community’s plight.
The design for an all-year road dubbed ‘Freedom Road,’ which would take the community out of isolation and provide access to the reserve all year, is almost done, and construction on it could start as early as October, he said.
Currently, the only way into the community is through a barge or a deadly winter road, which has claimed the lives of band members, who have died falling through the ice.
“Everybody takes roads for granted. For us it’s life and death,” the chief said.