Explore the journey of bottled water to Island Lake

Even though Indigenous peoples in Canada are among the lowest contributors to greenhouse emissions in the country, academic research shows they are among the most exposed to climate change impacts – says the “My Fear Is Losing Everything”: The Climate Crisis and First Nations’ Right to Food in Canada report by Human Rights Watch.

Canada is warming by approximately twice the global average, and Northern Canada, where many Indigenous communities are situated, is warming even faster.

This month, chiefs from four northern Manitoba First Nations declared a state of emergency because unseasonably warm weather has led to the failing of the winter road network they depend upon for vital goods and services.

Grand Chief Scott Harper, with a council representing the four First Nations that make up the remote Island Lake region — Garden Hill, Wasagamack, Red Sucker Lake and St. Theresa Point — says their immediate focus is on expediting delivery of essential goods to safeguard the health, safety and well-being of residents.

Winter is an important time in northern and remote communities like Island Lake that rely primarily on winter roads to deliver goods and products. People in these communities use winter/ice roads to transport food and other supplies, visit family members, and travel to larger communities.

However, climate change is affecting the stability and availability of winter roads. As they become less reliable in the winter due to warming, communities increasingly rely on more expensive air transport to deliver food, driving up the cost of food and other essentials.

As displayed in an ArcGIS StoryMap created by Esri Canada for Food Banks Canada, when the winter roads are not accessible, food and other essential items must be flown into the Island Lake Airport (which is located on a small island) and then ferried across the water to the community using a barge.

While faster than most other transportation methods, air transportation is significantly more expensive than transporting goods by road, train or ship. For some items, the cost of air freight can be worth more than the items themselves.

For example, by the time a 24-case of bottled water gets to the grocery store in Island Lake, the cost per case can be upwards of $50 after subsidies and store markup.

Using the winter roads, which are much more cost-effective for residents to have supplies driven up to the community, the cost for the same 24-pack of water is over $30 after subsidies and store markup.

Bottled water is important in many Indigenous and northern communities who face major societal and infrastructure challenges related to accessing clean water. Scroll through the map below to learn about the journey of a 24-case of bottled water to Island Lake and more.

Food Banks Canada would like to thank the Walmart Foundation for funding this StoryMap initiative.