Freedom Road is a five-part docuseries that chronicles the story of Shoal Lake 40 Anishinaabe First Nation’s battle for a road connecting the community to the Trans-Canada Highway.
The series was filmed during the construction of Freedom Road between 2017 and 2019. Freedom Road premiered Nov. 5 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery as a part of the 11th annual Gimme Some Truth documentary film festival.
Directed by activist, scholar, community member and U of M graduate student Angelina McLeod, each of the five episodes isolates and focuses on specific segments of the community based on the Shoal Lake 40 governance structure.
The first episode focuses on the context of the series. It follows McLeod and consultation officer Daryl Redsky who overview the brutal colonial project that has left Shoal Lake 40 isolated and without running water for decades in order to provide water for Winnipeg.
Episode two — titled “Men/Ininiwag” — highlights the daily struggles to keep the remaining water infrastructure working even in the dead of winter.
Part three, “Women/Ikwewag,” details the terrifying journeys expectant and new mothers take on the thawing lake in order to haul basic necessities to the community, and features their walk to Winnipeg to raise awareness.
The penultimate chapter — titled “Youth/Oshkaadiziig” — emphasizes the youth whose future depends on the new road and who got jobs building the road, and documents their uncertain futures once the job is complete. Shoal Lake 40’s local school only goes to Grade 8, forcing many students to leave their community.
“Children are still forced to move away for their education,” McLeod said.
“It’s still like the residential school system. Children are still being taken away from their families.”
The docuseries concludes with the episode “Elders/Gitchi-aya’aag,” focusing on the fall harvest where the community Elders pass on their knowledge that ensures the community’s survival while recounting their own history with residential schools, trauma, isolation and survival.
“My film crew was properly trained with cultural protocols,” McLeod said.
“We ensured that we always consulted with community members that were in the film and we invited them to the studio to make sure that everything that they said and everything that we cut was what they would like to see.”
Freedom Road is equal parts haunting, beautiful and inspiring.
On a strictly technical level, the series is brilliantly put together with haunting images of the community and its struggles combined with paradoxically hopeful scenes of construction equipment used to build Freedom Road.
Each personal story is cherished and intimate, offering visions of incredible resilience in the face of hopelessness, recovery, triumph and renewed hope.
McLeod said she “got to reconnect with the community,” through the filmmaking process.
“It reconnected everyone in the whole community altogether as a whole. We all realized that we all had the same struggles.”
McLeod hopes this series will shine a light on the continuing issues that still need to be resolved.
“It’s a good educational tool that will help non-Indigenous people and newcomers to Turtle Island [understand] the struggles in First Nations communities,” she said.
“This is still happening today.”
Freedom Road premiered in its entirety at the Winnipeg Art Gallery Nov. 5 as a part of the Gimme Some Truth documentary film festival. Further showings are to be announced.