Online discussion panel highlights the story behind documentary Freedom Road

By Emma Harbottle

This is the beginning of Freedom Road that leads to the community of Shoal Lake 40. Community members can now commute to access employment opportunities, groceries, and other necessities since the road officially opened in June 2019./EMMA HARBOTTLE

Red River College hosted its second annual Truth and Reconciliation Week from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2 to honour Indigenous culture and foster an understanding of Indigenous issues within the college community.

The college hosted this year’s events online, including a live panel discussion on the 2019 documentary series Freedom Road with Shoal Lake 40 members Angelina McLeod and Daryl Redsky, and producer Alicia Smith.

The discussion panel highlighted the making of the five-part series, which documents the struggles and triumphs of the Shoal Lake 40 community throughout the construction of Freedom Road — a road that officially opened in June 2019, which connects the reserve to the Trans-Canada Highway outside of Falcon Lake.

Community members used to use a ferry and ice roads before Freedom Road was built. More than 100 years ago, the construction of an aqueduct that supplied Winnipeg with drinking water isolated Shoal Lake 40 on a man-made island.

The road has enabled the community to travel off of the reserve safely and access new opportunities.

“We now have total freedom to leave our homes and have access to employment off the reserves,” said Redsky during the panel. “I use that road every day for work.”

“We don’t have to risk our lives anymore going just to get groceries and the basic necessities,” said McLeod.

“Prior to Freedom Road, we had no economic development. Our infrastructure was decades behind,” said Redsky.

The road provides the community with easier access to construction material, which made it possible for the reserve to build a school and water treatment plant.

The discussion panel emphasized how it was a long process for the community of Shoal Lake 40 to get where they are now. It involved multiple meetings with members of the community as well as with those off of the reserve.

Decision-making processes within the community depend on four groups — elders, men, women, and youth — without whom decisions can’t proceed.

“We have to have all four circles agree to a way of moving forward as a total community,” said Redsky.

The discussion panel highlighted this was only the beginning for Shoal Lake 40 as they expect more opportunities for growth will develop in the future.

The sun rises over Freedom Road, just west of Falcon Lake where the road meets the Trans-Canada Highway, on Friday morning, October 9./EMMA HARBOTTLE

RRC’s Truth and Reconciliation Week, which serves as a time for reflection and understanding of Indigenous issues, also marked Orange Shirt Day on Wednesday, Sept. 30, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Day on Oct. 4.