Freedom Road is a five-part documentary series that tells the inspiring story of Shoal Lake 40 Anishinaabe First Nation and their battle to build a road, after their community was forcibly relocated and cut off from the mainland over 100 years ago, so that water could be diverted to the city of Winnipeg.
Director and Shoal Lake 40 member Angelina McLeod uses an innovative, community-driven approach to storytelling that highlights the community’s dignity, strength and perseverance, as they take back control of their narrative and their future in the process of building Freedom Road.
This story begins over a century ago, when the City of Winnipeg decides that the water surrounding the traditional Anishinaabe territory of what is now Shoal Lake 40 First Nation will be diverted and used as Winnipeg’s primary water source. The community, their ancient burial grounds, environment, and ways of life are forever disrupted, and access to opportunities and essential services are severed. Enforced residential schooling and a tainted water supply compound the devastating impact. Community leader and former combat engineer Daryl Redsky sheds light on how generations of complex planning, cultural preservation and mobilization have led us to the current moment—and to the construction of Freedom Road.
The men of Shoal Lake 40 tell the story of life in the community from their perspective, in the lead-up to their annual powwow. Lorne Redsky works the outdated pump house; there is no money to fix basic systems and bottled water is required for everyday use. As Lorne focuses his energy on the monumental task of getting clean water to the powwow, community member Kavin Redsky prepares his regalia for dancing, a deeply personal process connected to his healing journey. The two men embody the powerful gifts of community, traditional culture, and medicines, which have given the people of Shoal Lake 40 the resilience to continue the fight for Freedom Road.
Shoal Lake 40 women talk about their struggles, and those of their parents and grandparents, in trying to raise their families in a hazardous state of enforced isolation. Everyone in the community has a harrowing story of a loved one falling through the ice while trying to get across the lake, with pregnant women and new mothers fearing for their babies and having no choice but to make the trek in dangerous conditions. The film shows the key role of the community’s women in demanding funding for the road from three levels of government, and how their reconnection to culture and ceremony give them the strength to keep going.
Shoal Lake 40 youth share what it’s like to be forced to live away from their close-knit families and community to attend high school in Kenora, Ontario. The community’s school provides courses up to the Grade 8 level only, so there are no other options for young people who want to continue their education. Some of the young men are able to work on the construction of the road, a rare opportunity to have a good job in the community. The pride of the youth in doing this work is palpable, and they express the gratification that comes with providing safety for their Elders and opportunities for future generations. Despite the systemic and personal racism they’ve already experienced, Freedom Road gives the youth a sense of optimism and instills hope in them for the future of their community and their own ability to contribute.
The Elders of Shoal Lake 40 prepare a feast as part of their annual Fall Harvest, where they share traditional knowledge and teachings with the people of the community. As they prepare bannock, fish and meat, they plaintively recount traumatic experiences from their childhoods, including being hidden from residential school and remembering those who lost or risked their lives trying to cross the ice. When the Elders talk about their responsibility in caring for community members and passing their knowledge on to the next generation, they illuminate the powerful source of the community’s continued endurance and strength.