Leah Decter

reflects in water

public participatory performance intervention
original performance: Waterfront Drive active transportation path, WInnpeg MB
subsequent actions in multiple locations including the Forks and the Red and Assinaboine River skating paths, Winnipeg 

In collaboration with Peace Alliance Winnipeg, Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, SHoal Lake MUseum of Human Rights Violations, Friends of Shoal Lake 40, 13 Fires Winnipeg with additional participation/support from the Council of Canadians and the University of Winnipeg Student Union.

For over 100 years Winnipeg has obtained its water from Shoal Lake, in Treaty 3 territory, an enterprise that has resulted in dislocation, significant hardship and isolation for Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. Integrating storytelling and community activism with site-specific participatory public art-action, reflects in water engaged multiple collaborators and the public at large to raise awareness about First Nations water rights, highlighting the conditions in, and activism of, Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.

In its initial activation, members of the public were invited to stencil statements, contributed by Shoal Lake 40 First Nation members, onto the Waterfront Drive active transportation path using the unpotable water that surrounds the Shoal Lake 40 community.  With their ideas brought to life using the material in contention, these actions highlighted Shoal Lake 40 First Nation members’ concerns and hopes for remediation of the unconscionable conditions they face on a daily basis as a result of Winnipeg’s access to Shoal Lake water. The ephemeral nature of the water stencils highlighted the propensity for these issues to quickly fade from the public attention and the need to be present and active in order to make change. As a counterpoint to the damaging way water has been accessed by the City of Winnipeg over the last 100 years the Shoal Lake water used in the project was accessed with permission from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation and with a gift offered to the community in exchange.

The Waterfront Drive active transformation path was chosen as the initial location because of its access to the general public, it’s adjacency to the Red River, which is the body of water that was deemed not to be a viable source for Winnipeg over 100 years ago, and because it is the site of one of the city’s four monuments to the aqueduct that carries water from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg. The stencilling took place throughout the day in conjunction with 13 Fires Water Fire Gathering, which included a slate of speakers including Shoal Lake 40 First Nation members, who discussed water issues from various perspectives.

As materials from the project continue to be activated at the request of SL40FN, the project brings ongoing attention to this issue of national importance.

The project was funded by WInnipeg Arts Council’s Withart Program. 

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