By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A new partnership has seen a line of water bottles land on Manitoba store shelves, and those who created the bottles hope they will create more of an understanding and acknowledgment of the horrible legacy of residential schools.
On Thursday, the Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO), which represents 34 First Nations communities in southern Manitoba, officially announced their new partnership with Winnipeg-based Corpell’s Water.
The two organizations have come together to create a new Every Child Matters water bottle with a distinctive orange label that went on sale this month in several retail stores in Manitoba.
“I am deeply appreciative when members of the business community show a commitment to meaningful reconciliation,” SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a release announcing the new partnership.
While the bottles will portray a message, they will also work to help fund initiatives to help Indigenous people to succeed, as Corpell’s will donate funds to a new endowed SCO Scholarship Fund at the University of Brandon for every case sold, and SCO said they will match the donations up to $25,000.
That fund will be used to assist residential school survivors and their family members looking to enroll in post-secondary education programs.
“I want to commend the leadership at Corpell’s for taking this significant step when it comes to remembering the children who attended the schools across our territory, and their commitment to raising awareness and scholarship funds,” Daniels said.
Corpell’s Water president Kurt Friesen said he and those in the company were pushed to do something to help after learning over the last year about the thousands of unmarked graves that have been discovered across the country near former residential schools, and learning more about the abuse and mistreatment that so many Indigenous people experienced in residential schools over decades in this country.
“Like so many Canadians, we were devastated to witness the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves at former residential school sites over the past year,” Friesen said.
“We knew we wanted to do our part to honour those little ones, along with all survivors and their families. We cannot change the past, but we can do something to show we will never forget, and that we will do what we can to rectify this horrific chapter in our country’s history.”
While the bottles represent the legacy of residential schools, one Manitoba Chief says they also represent something else that is very important in Indigenous culture.
“First Nation people recognize water as a sacred gift that connects all life,” Canupawakpa Dakota Nation Chief Lola Thunderchild said.
“We use it in ceremony and value it as the lifeblood of Mother Earth. I want to commend Corpell’s for using the gift of water to bring life to the post-secondary education dreams of IRS survivors and their relations in Manitoba.
“It’s fitting that water forms the basis of this initiative.”
SCO said the limited edition bottles are now available at Sobey’s, Food Fares, Red River Co-op Stores, Esso, One Stop in Selkirk, and the Brokenhead Community Store in the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, with more stores to be announced, and said they have plans for upcoming sales at summer festivals in Manitoba.
Corpell’s said they will continue to sell the bottles as long as there is a demand.
– Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.