‘I don’t want to go home in a coffin’: Five years on, Lake St. Martin residents dying to go home

Margaret Traverse (left), 77, weeps as she offers her condolences to Edee O’Meara, whose mother Maryanne O’Meara passed away on Mother’s Day.

By Austin Grabish For Metro

Edee O’Meara stands in a hotel room preparing to say goodbye to her mom, wearing a shimmering black dress and sparkling new high heels.

Her mother Shee Sheeb, a Lake St. Martin elder, left specific instructions and a prepaid debit card for this night.

“She said make sure all my grandchildren are dressed nice.” So, her three daughters are in “pretty dresses” for the funeral.

Shee Sheeb, known only on paper as Maryanne O’Meara, died in St. Boniface Hospital on Mother’s Day. She had a heart attack in March and was suffering from anxiety. She was 68.

She is the latest band member from Lake St. Martin to die.

It’s gone now, but a portable hospital bed once filled the cramped hotel room that She Sheeb called home.

O’Meara said her mom developed stress-related illness and anxiety two years after Lake St. Martin flooded in 2011, which left the band’s 2,000 members homeless.

“She was a picture of health,” she said. “If we were not evacuated we would not be doing this right now.”

Austin Grabish / For Metro
Edee O’Meara prepares the blanket to go over her mother’s casket in the hotel room she lived in before she died. Shee Sheeb is the latest band member to pass away.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held in June of last year to symbolize the rebuilding of the community. However, hundreds are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt, and there is no firm completion date, according to the federal government.

The province is also cutting a channel from Lake St. Martin to Lake Manitoba, to help it drain more quickly in times of higher water.

In the meantime, the community is suffering dramatic losses due to suicide and to their people being exposed to higher-risk lifestyles in the city.

There’s a knock at the door. Lake St. Martin’s oldest elder Margaret Traverse, 77, arrives to offer her condolences.

Traverse lives two doors down from Shee Sheeb and is frail as she weeps. “It never used to be like this.”

Shee Sheeb’s body arrives and is waiting down the hall outside.
Women drum asking the Creator for help as the casket makes its way into the hotel’s ballroom – the same room evacuees pick up their monthly living allowance.

It becomes standing room only as hundreds come to say their goodbyes.
Standing in front of the casket, Lanna Moon, 7, stands proud and sings, “I love my granny.”

She’s so small you can’t see her at the back of the room, but her voice still manages to bring the room to tears.

“I don’t want to go home in a coffin,” said Traverse, staring ahead at Shee Sheeb’s casket.

“That’s what they all say,” a relative sitting next to Traverse replied.


Shoal Lake band member says ‘Canada needs to smarten up’ following visit to UN


Linda Redsky, 55, with her nephew Adam. AUSTIN GRABISH / FOR METRO

The UN’s heard their story, but for now band members living on Shoal Lake 40 First Nation must wait.

My follow to Linda Redsky’s trip to Geneva for Metro is below.

By Austin Grabish For Metro
She’s shared her community’s story with the world, but for now, Linda Redsky and other Shoal Lake 40 band members must wait.

Redsky was to return to Shoal Lake yesterday following a weeklong trip to Geneva, Switzerland with Human Rights Watch and Samantha Redsky, another band member.

Linda, 55, told a UN committee on economic, social, and cultural rights that “Canada needs to leap and not shuffle” when it comes to First Nations water rights.

She explained to the committee how she must travel off reserve just to bathe her 14-year-old nephew Adam who otherwise breaks out with eczema from the First Nation’s water, which is tainted with parasites.

He just breaks out, she said while shaking her head showing Metro the boy’s eczema Sunday.

Shoal Lake 40 provides the City of Winnipeg with clean water, but lies in isolation on an island cradling the Manitoba-Ontario border and has been under a boil-water advisory itself for almost two decades.

The grandmother said while her community’s fought for years for change, she didn’t realize her human rights were being violated “on so many levels,” until she arrived at the UN.

She said Human Rights Watch didn’t mince words when presenting about Shoal Lake 40, and neither did she in an interview Sunday.

“Canada needs to smarten up and start dealing with these issues,” Redsky said.

“All these years they’ve been kind of dragging their feet whenever we bring up our issues nothing really gets done about it.”

She said she was disappointed to hear Canadian representatives tell the UN they would need five years to correct issues brought forward by Shoal Lake and other First Nations last week.

“We need to be treated with dignity and not be put on the back shelve,” she said.

UN committee to hear plight of waterless Shoal Lake First Nation Monday

Canada is ‘struggling’ to meet human rights obligations, according to a report obtained by Metro

The world is about to hear from Shoal Lake 40 band members.

Below is a copy of my story that ran nationally today for Metro Canada.

By Austin Grabish For Metro

Linda Redsky is packing her bags, leaving her isolated community, and preparing to share the plight of Shoal Lake 40 on the world stage.

Redsky and possibly a second band member will join Human Rights Watch at the United Nations in Geneva on Monday as the rights watchdog presents a report detailing its preliminary findings on Shoal Lake 40 and three other Ontario reserves.

The presentation will be made to the UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights, which is reviewing Canada’s track record on human rights.

The group started investigating living conditions on Shoal Lake, Neskantaga, Batchewana, and Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, last year after Shoal Lake started making headlines.

The reserve, which lies on the Ontario-Manitoba border, provides the City of Winnipeg with clean drinking water, but has been under a boil-water advisory itself for nearly two decades and is cut off from the mainland.

Redsky, 55, has fallen through an ice road while trying to cross into the community during the winter, and recently had to temporarily relocate off-reserve to Kenora, Ont. so her foster son could attend high school.

She said she’s seen the plight of her community get worse over the years “as I’ve watched the people continue to go across.”

“I’ve seen vehicles going through. The loss of life,” she said.

Redsky said the boil-water advisory has made it almost impossible to bathe on the island.

“My boy, for instance, he’s got eczema and I have to take him off the community just to go bathe him in clean water,” she said.

A copy of the Human Rights Watch report, obtained by Metro, says Canada is struggling to fulfill its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The 17-page report details how the Shoal Lake water treatment system was never equipped to filter out Cryptosporidium, a parasite that causes diarrhea and is active in the community’s water.

Human Rights Watch senior researcher Amanda Klasing said the boil-water advisory on Shoal Lake is an example of how aboriginal people living on reserve lack the same protections other Canadians enjoy.

“Let it be known that they are struggling in Canada to vindicate their basic human rights including access to clean water and sanitation,” Klasing wrote in an email.

Klasing said Human Rights Watch will release a full report on its findings later this year.