We, the people of the Great Lakes, love and depend upon our waters to sustain our lives, our communities and all life in our ecosystem.

It is therefore with growing alarm that we confront a painful reality – that despite decades of effort the Lakes are more threatened than ever. As people from across the Great Lakes, we find this unacceptable. We cannot stand by while our waters are treated as an expendable and exploitable resource when we know they are a source of life.

Moved by a hope that we can yet create a thriving and life sustaining future for our Lakes, we step forward to take up our responsibility to care for and act on behalf of these waters, our Great Lakes Commons. Seeing that the health of our waters is intertwined with our own health and that of generations yet to come, we are called to assert a deeper connection and more powerful role in the future of our waters.

We hereby set forth the Great Lakes Commons Charter, a living document that affirms and empowers the wisdom and rightful role of the people of the Lakes as stewards of our waters.

This Declaration and the First Principles emerge from the collaborative work of people and communities around the lakes. Together we reflect many walks of life, histories and cultures. At the same time, a single purpose unites us: to transition to a mode of Great Lakes governance by which the waters and all living beings can flourish. 

Towards this end, we affirm:

That the waters of the Great Lakes have sustained the lives of the people and communities in their basin since time immemorial and they should continue to do so in perpetuity.

That the waters, ecosystems, and communities of the Great Lakes are entwined and interdependent. Damage to any of these causes harm to the others.

That the Great Lakes are a gift and a responsibility held in common by the peoples and communities of the Lakes and must be treated as such as to ensure their preservation for coming generations.

That the boundaries of states, provinces and nations crisscross the Lakes but do not divide their natural integrity. All decision-making that impacts the Great Lakes must place the well-being of the bio-region and ecosystem as a whole at the center of consideration.

That the inherent sovereignty and rights of Indigenous peoples as codified in treaties and international agreements must be upheld as foundational to commons governance.


We join our voices in affirming the spirit and necessity of this declaration as the foundation for a renewed relationship and mode of governance for our Great Lakes Commons. We welcome the wisdom, standing and power that this document will accrue over time to shape the future of our Lakes. We invest it with our hopes and commitments to that future and to the future generations who will inherit the legacy of our actions.

In signing this Charter, we embrace our responsibility, individual and collective, to act on behalf of these waters and of future generations.

Individual Support    (org. support below)

I support the Great Lakes Commons Charter. *
I support the Great Lakes Commons Charter.
An action can be personal or public or take modest or great effort. Something new or already part of your life.
If you are supporting this Charter Declaration as a member of an organization, let us know which one.
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Regardless of where you live or how connect to the Great Lakes, we welcome your perspective.
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You can  download a pocket version  of the Charter and  learn how to fold it  into a booklet

You can download a pocket version of the Charter and learn how to fold it into a booklet

Organizational Support

Sharing with your members? Integrate with your campaigns and programs?

The Charter Declaration in 5 Great Lakes languages