Emergence #4: conditions to let things happen

On October 24, we hosted our third conversation about adapting the principles of Emergent Strategy for a Great Lakes commons. You can read about first and second talks as well as a post about the 9 Principles of Emergent Strategy and how they could intersect with water governance.

This call included:

  • Gus Ganley & Lindsay Swan, artists making a documentary about the Great Lakes

  • Ben Roberts, steward with Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory

  • Leslie Meehan, steward with Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory

  • Laura Gilbert, Economics for the Anthropocene program, McGill University PhD student

  • Todd Hoskins, group and organizational facilitator at Canopy Gap

  • Lucy Cummings, Faith and the Common Good

  • Ricardo Levins Morale, healer and trickster organizer disguised as an artist

  • Margaret Anne Forrest, Faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, McGill University

  • Barbara Richards, regenerative communities, Sociocracy For All

  • Edward George, Saugeen First Nation, sacred water walks

  • Luke Evans, Great Lakes Commons

  • Paul Baines, Great Lakes Commons

We invited Edward George to this talk since he has also been reading Emergent Strategy and feels it has great potential for water protection. He was lifted up hearing people talk from all sides of the Great Lakes showing their care. As a young Anishinaabe man, he started his journey with the sacred water walks and paddling the Great Lakes. He has a close relationship with the Great Lakes and with many people across the region. He’s learned from the land, elders, and those doing the work.

Waasekom Niin (his Anishinaabe name) initiated a petition for Great Lakes personhood — a legal/cultural move to recognize the water’s inherent rights as a living entity. He is not looking for solutions, as much as doing what is required of us since our responsibilities are shaped by our Indigenous ancestories and prophetic teachings of challenge and change. He believes Emergent Strategy helps us ask the right kinds of questions and create the right kind of conversations and invitations. We all have an Indigenous linage.

He also initiated a sunrise event to talk to the lakes on October 25th. Because of the recent discovery of blue-green algae in Lake Superior, it is time to ask for more time and let the lakes know we are trying and are not giving up. This follows a similar event in September with 150 participants. Over 400 people are expected to join this one at a waterbody near them (an update on this is coming soon).

Edward is also working to revive traditional forms of Anishinaabe governance, such as the clan system, as a strategy that works beyond a rights-based framework. Legal rights flow from inherit rights, which ultimately flow from a sacred responsibility. Unpacking what FPIC (free prior and informed consent) actually means from this perspective would therefore need to consult with the lakes before any impactful actions planned by humans. So much of the problem stems from how we look at water -- only from our own perspective, rather than trying from the point of view of water. That invites the practices of putting down tobacco as a gift and singing to the waters.

The idea for water personhood came to him in the shower and when he looked online to learn more, he found that New Zealand had given rights to a river the week previous and India had done the same a week after that immersed experience. Personhood is a way to strengthen Indigenous wisdom about water’s aliveness and a way to level the playing field with corporations who now have legal personhood rights. Indigenous nations can be the main voice of water, since they have the strongest relationships.

  Picture by Paul Baines after offering tobacco on October 25th for the sunrise ceremony across the Great Lakes

Picture by Paul Baines after offering tobacco on October 25th for the sunrise ceremony across the Great Lakes

Damage can happen quickly, but healing takes time. Deep relational work takes time or we get it wrong, maybe make things worse. Personhood is a strategy for slowing down, shifting our perspective, and getting more time to build those healing relationships.

During their BLK WTR documentary-making tour, Lindsay and Gus are meeting with people who are trying to reawaken traditional Indigenous ways and transition out of a capitalist system. There is a lot of re-education going on that is led by Indigenous nations, such as building birch bark canoes in northern Michigan and the Ziibiwing Centre. There’s a Line 5 camp with some water protectors who were also at Standing Rock to stop that destructive oil pipeline. They took embers from that North Dakota fire and are bringing them to their homelands to continue the work. They are re-culturing themselves, not just protesting. They are walking the talk about getting off of fossil fuels and living new lives.

The principle and urgent call for Water as a Human Right is important in Flint and Detroit and also the ‘rights-based’ language is a very western/colonial tool/discourse that needs a central governing body to respect/grant those rights. As compared to culture of responsibility.

The way in which we gather is crucial. We need to activate each person’s connection to water, even those who are polluting the water since they too are made of water. Water is telling (some of us) that when they see us, they don’t see you as a person, but rather as water -- as part of itself. So from its own perspective. The water within us is also part of this narrative and emerging shift. This can help us scale the Great Lakes work to the personal and back again.

How do we better organize our efforts within and across networks? How do we live between kairos (right) time and chronos (linear) time? Rituals for earth and personal healing use totally different time regimes than activist and electoral ones. Being in both times can leave us open to spirit flowing through us. Living this balance ourselves can be the biggest gift we can give. How well are organizing on ‘earth’s’ time of moon and sun cycles, the seasons, and the arch of non-human time? This can help us find our powerful rhythms.

The mycelium connecting life underground and creating mushrooms can teach us about the tiny connections that make the whole possible. A network connector starts at the tiny level and makes good relationships worth our time. Mushrooms are temporary and not designed to last long, just like activations such as Standing Rock or sunrise ceremonies. But the mycelium (or the embers and tobacco) are still feeding the movement today. Just because they are gone doesn’t mean the mushrooms were not important. Mycelium also cast spores far and wide which leads to the growth of new mycelial mats (which we may have no knowledge of).

It’s harder to see and measure these types of networks and capacities and our ways of trying are often stuck in the old paradigm. Another way of building these networks is through ‘Subtle Activism’ which uses contemplative and ceremonial practices for the greater good. We just need to find/create these communities and get active. Examples include:

Gaiafield Project + Earth Treasure Vase + Conference Weaving + Bioneers + Spirit in Action

The stories we tell matter since settler-bodies can be based in judgement and punishment (when thinking about death and resurrection) whereas an Anishinaabe perspective on purgatory embraces a healing journey. These stories can also include prophecies, which suggest that we are living in a time foreseen by the insight of our ancestors. Indigenous Futurism also animates the role of visioning as an emergent strategy and how we are both telling and living stories at the same time.

If we had a solution for the Great Lakes, how would we come together around it? How do we pick up our bundles of roles and responsibilities? What have we already done but missed the mark on? How do we ensure the right people are participating? Emergent Strategy gives us some direction on these questions so that we can see solutions from different perspectives, while looking at the same thing.

A central message of Emergent Strategy is that we don’t make things happen, we let things happen.

And there’s a lot we can do make the conditions for things to happen. Our organizing strategies need to help people remember -- remember their Indigenous worlds as we find balance between urgency and patience.

Which parts of this talk resonate with you? If you would like to participate in our next Emergent Strategy talk, please let us know.