Water is Life

by Sue Chiblow, Garden River First Nation

Calling on Indigenous Peoples to re-establish our responsibilities to the waters and those yet unborn by working collaboratively with one common vision – WATER IS LIFE, without healthy waters, nothing will survive.

A Great Lakes Commons Summit Gathering was held in 2012 to explore strategies to move forward collectively to protect the future of the Great Lakes. The Summit brought together a range of peoples from different backgrounds including Indigenous Peoples. All agreed that the current governance systems managing the Great Lakes are not working as they are geared towards private and commercial interests at the expense of destroying the waters. All agreed that fundamental changes are needed now and everyone has a responsibility to the waters and those yet unborn.


image by: Jay Bell Redbird

The Great Lakes Commons is a collaboration of peoples including many Indigenous Peoples that are seeking ways to restore balance to the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Commons has drafted common principles and a Charter. The Great Lakes Commons Charter represents the interweaving of Indigenous sovereign traditions, commons governance, public trust doctrine and the aspirations of communities collected over a period of years. It is a living document. It is a movement to re-establish responsibilities as individuals, as communities and as nations to the waters.

The concept of the Great Lakes Commons is not a new concept to Indigenous Peoples as we understood the waters were our highways, a shared responsibility between all living things. Indigenous Peoples understood the connection between life and the waters, that healthy waters provide us with healthy lives. Our Elders have told us we need to seek ways to better preserve the natural way of living to re-connect to the waters. We now have an opportunity to implement what our Elders have told us by joining with others, working collaboratively to ensure the waters are healthy now and in the future.

Our Elders have told us that the health of the Great Lakes is at risk if we do not do something immediately to change the current path of destruction we are on. We all have a common vision, a common goal. We all want healthy waters today and for those yet unborn. We want to stop the destruction of the waters by humans and begin to live our responsibilities to the waters and all life. Our Elders have expressed the urgency of changing destructive behaviors towards the waters and working collaboratively to ensure we have healthy waters now and in the future.

As the First Peoples of Turtle Island, we were given instructions on how to live on Mother Earth. These instructions included our responsibilities to the waters and to those yet unborn. We understand that no one owns the waters. No one person, industry, government or thing can claim the waters as theirs. We understand that we are borrowing from future generations and our Elders remind us to keep this in mind in all our deliberations.


photo by: Valerie Bell

In the past, we as the First Peoples of Turtle Island have witnessed, lived and survived a massive assault on our Peoples, our languages, our culture, our way of life. Our Elders are now telling us to learn from the lessons of this assault and find new ways to move forward collaboratively for those yet unborn. It is our turn to rise as Indigenous Peoples with our knowledge systems, our responsibilities, and our instructions to stop the assaults on the waters now and into the future so that we can all continue to survive as individuals, as communities and as nations.