"Ugh, we need to boil water before we can use it? How inconvenient!"
Almost two years ago I was made aware of the injustice that the community of Ojibwa First Nation, also known as Shoal Lake 40, has endured for over a century (see here to learn about the History of SL40). In some way, I feel like God was using this “annoying” and “inconvenient” thing, a boil water advisory, to prompt an investigation of how and where our drinking water comes from.
In October, 2015 I had an opportunity to visit Shoal Lake 40 with seven Winnipeg city councilors and representatives of various advocacy groups. A year and half later, I was invited to write a blog post about my trip. As memories of the details of the trip faded over time, I wasn’t sure if I can write down anything meaningful/not known to Home Streeters already. But as I struggle coming up with ideas, what always came back to my mind was the people I had the privilege to meet, the stories shared with one another, and the human connections that we had in those few short hours.
On our way to Shoal Lake, I was fortunate enough to have Sarah, a SL40 resident in our vehicle. Sarah shared with us the struggles that they face as a community as well as her personal struggles living on the reserve, but our conversation did not end there. She also shared with us her joy and her pride living on the reserve. We connected as fellow human beings – as friends, as equals. Just like the life modeled by Christ, building peace and advocating justice take more than “physically building the Freedom Road”, or in other cases physically giving resources to the oppressed. Jesus did not stop at meeting the material needs of the people, in fact, I think by “loving your neighbour” Jesus actually means getting to know them – know their names, know their stories, share the joy and suffering, and together we walk the journey of life. On this trip, I see that positive human connection can not only lead to compassionate and deeper understanding of one another but is also able to break down the barrier of one as giver and the other receiver.
While I can’t quite remember all the facts that we learned on our tour – the dollar amount required for the Freedom Road, the number of bottled water used per year etc – I will always remember the faces that we met, the stories that were exchanged, and the gift of the relationship that we were able to share with one another. Perhaps, peace building and advocacy for justice require relationship building: meeting not merely people’s material needs but the deep-rooted human desire for authentic relationship. To me, our trip to Shoal Lake was more than an opportunity to witness change and to be a part of a social justice movement. It was a chance to learn to connect with people who are so different from me, and to realize that we as fellow human being, share so much of life’s joy and struggle in similar ways, together.
photos and blog post by Jim Cheng, March 24, 2017