Collaborative Governance: who rules the waters?

In this age of endless easy petitions and staged town halls, surely we've reached the tipping point for public consultation and policy input. Rule makers want our opinion about stopping bottled water, burying nuclear waste, tar sands pipelines, micro-plastics, water shut offs, boil water advisories, nutrient overload, and the list goes on. But rather than being consulted by the rule makers, what if we organized better ways to set the rules ourselves?

Indigenous Led Water Protection: two examples to bring to the Great Lakes?

Water justice is not just about changing the distribution of water access and benefits, but access to the water governing rules too. The human right to water is a challenge globally and even here in the Great Lakes too. In recent years, the struggle for clean and affordable water has risen in Flint, Detroit, and in over 100 First Nations across Canada. This post presents 2 examples of how Indigenous nations are taking back some control over how the waters are governed. 

The Gift of Water

“There is a fish in me,” claimed the poet Carl Sandburg. John Muir said: “Rivers flow not past, but through us." Overly poetic? How about this: “We exist to advance the sources of creation and creativity. Refresh your mind and restore your body. Life. Water. Inspiration.” This message adorns a water bottle – “LIFE WTR” – bottled by PepsiCo and sold for $2 per liter. What runs through us if not “life water”? Our brains and hearts are 75% water. Water isn’t a luxury item. We can survive for only 3-5 days without water. Don’t try this at home.

Lighting a Fire in Flint: water groups unite for a Great Lakes Commons

Great Lakes Commons co-hosted a Water Summit in Flint this fall as part of a union of water organizations challenging Nestlé on its water bottling and calling an end the tap water crises in Flint, Detroit, and Indigenous nations. GLC hosted a workshop called "The Colonial Enclosure of Water" in the Great Lakes that showed several examples of how to re-centre Indigenous claims, perspectives, and rules for water governance. 

Water Friendship for Everyone: seed project report

Protected solely as a resource, water is threatened most by our collective denial that water is much more -- it is also the source of many vital relationships.The Water Friendship project aims to name these relationships, present their value and role in water protection, and offer concrete actions to guide water policy, curriculum, and advocacy. Additionally, uncovering lost connections to water can connect people across different cultures, professions, and locations.

Dispatches from the Wastelands: touring folk opera talks to commoners

3 field dispatches from the 2016 folk opera tour "The Wastelands" performed by Children of the Wild. Here we visit Lorain (Ohio) Fon-du-Lac (Minnesota) and the Straits of Mackinac (Michigan) to hear the voices of poets, elders, and musicians calling out for a renewed relationship with the lands and waters. Includes 3 short videos. 

Crashing Great Lakes Governance: making a safe bet on our water futures

The 2008 financial crisis was ripe for a meltdown since those most literate with the world’s financial laws and limits were accomplices in the damage. An obscure and unquestioned governance system was the ideal setting for public negligence and private greed. 2008 proved that banks are not “too big to fail.” The regulators and traders skirted responsibility and hit a windfall, while about 10 trillion dollars was taken from people’s financial assets. The system crashed, the banks failed their customers, and yet in 2017 it is still business as usual. In 2017 we should be wondering about the Great Lakes: will they crash as well? 

Water Friendship: finding a healthy relationship with water

What about the social bonds we have with water? Are we a good friend to water? Since we are in a relationship with water, what indicators do we have for measuring the quality of this relationship?

Whether we acknowledge it yet or not, we live in a world built on relationships. The environment is not a collection of resources. Environmental health is not a computation of biodiversity (the number of species) and elemental exchanges (water, air, soil, sunlight). What mainstream society has labelled ‘the environment’ is an illusion of separation. We are the environment.

Commons Currency: an econo-art project across the Great Lakes

While having money is private affair, the value of money is a commons. Like many other commons, money is a social agreement on what we value and how that value is exchanged and passed on. Let’s imagine for a moment.

Let’s imagine that the value of money is tied to the quality and availability of water to serve life in the Great Lakes basin. Since we are water, the water’s benefit is our benefit. We know economics is a sub-system of ecology and our money system needs to reflect this, not subvert it.

Singing for the Waters

Use this element of our Charter Toolkit and add your name and support to our transformative governance agreement -- the Great Lakes Commons Charter Declaration

Listen to Hawked Eyed Nephew by Ben Weaver here:


Honour Water is a singing game for healing water available for free on iPads that passes on songs in Anishinaabemowin, the Anishinaabe language. Songs are gifted by Sharon Day, the Oshkii Giizhik Singers, and elders who collaborated at the Oshkii Giizhik Gathering. Water teachings are interwoven with singing challenges alongside art by Elizabeth LaPensée.

You can also apply the 5 Steps in the Ben Weaver resource above to reflect on the impact of these water songs.

We welcome your feedback on how these resources can be adopted, improved, and expanded.