Justin Trudeau will visit a remote Indigenous reserve in Canada on Thursday as part of an upcoming VICELAND documentary, the first such visit for the Canadian prime minister since he took office.
The visit to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, which is located on a man-made island that sits along the Ontario and Manitoba border, comes amid a nationwide outcry over a rash of suicides and deplorable living conditions on reserves across the country.
Trudeau's visit is part of a VICELAND documentary project on issues affecting First Nations youth on reserves to be released later this spring.
Even though Shoal Lake 40 sits on the body of water that's the source of Winnipeg's drinking water, the reserve has been on a boil water advisory for two decades and requires the delivery of bottled water. There is no permanent road by which to access the community of around 250 people, and for most of the year, it's reachable only by a rundown ferry or aircraft.
The reserve embodies many of the ongoing health and socioeconomic crises affecting Indigenous peoples in Canada. There are more than 130 drinking water advisories on First Nations reserves across the country, according to the from Health Canada. There are currently 28 active states of emergency declared by First Nations communities in Ontario alone because of issues ranging from suicides among young people to housing conditions.
Most recently, Attawapiskat, a remote reserve in northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency after 11 people tried to kill themselves in one day, and more than 100 since September.
It's rare for sitting prime ministers to visit remote reserves.
"We're happy that Justin Trudeau accepted our offer to join us during a documentary shoot to see first hand the kinds of conditions that First Nations youth face in 2016," said VICE Canada's head of content Patrick McGuire. "But more importantly, we hope that this kind of reporting can increase awareness towards the layered and complex issues in these communities, and help push our government to exact substantive change."
Erwin Redsky, chief of Shoal Lake 40, told VICE News in an interview the visit is significant because it will provide Trudeau the chance to understand just how damaged his community really is. "I want him to see and feel what we go through on a daily basis, and how Canada's previous actions have destroyed our basic human rights," he said.
"And it's not only Shoal Lake 40 going through this. We have many First Nations deprived of the right to water and sanitation. Youth are contemplating suicide and we are living in deplorable conditions."
On the campaign trail before he was elected, Trudeau vowed to put an end to all boil water advisories on Canadian reserves within five years. His government's most recent budget dedicates nearly $2 billion over the next five years for creating and monitoring infrastructure related to water on reserves, but First Nations leaders have that for not going far enough.
Last year, Shoal Lake 40 received funding from local, provincial, and federal governments to begin constructing a permanent road to the reserve, but still requires funding in order to build a water treatment plant.
Redsky said he would most like to see the young people in his community engage with Trudeau. "I would love for him to talk to the youth and let them know that there is hope," he said.
Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne
(Photo by Matt Smith/The Canadian Press)
Watch VICE Canada's 2015 documentary on Shoal Lake 40, Canada's Waterless Communities: Shoal Lake 40: