30 Apr 2011

Indigenous fight for the Great Lakes Commons with water walk

(Water commons stuff at 3 mins in)

Deterritorialization may mean to take the control and order away from a land or place (territory) that is already established. It is to undo what has been done. For example, when the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, the Spanish eliminated many symbols of Aztec beliefs and rituals. Reterritorialization usually follows, as in the example when the Spanish replaced the traditional structures with their own beliefs and rituals


I am so conscious that indigenous America was deterritorialized, without romanticising indigenous societies which had plenty of faults, I am so aware that they were destroyed and a new map put over the northern bit of what some people call Turtle Island....so much was commodified by European settlers as William Cronon has shown.

Indigenous commons is a powerful tool for protecting the environment and providing for human needs. My take on how we can create a commons based economy is here, alas the Sustainable Development Commission were shut down not long after I did this work for them!

Indigenous people are walking to fight for a Great Lakes Commons, inspiring stuff....Americans too often confuse yield with plunder and prosperity with waste.

The fight for ecology is largely about creating new territories based on commons. Indigenous is a sociological concept and of course Professor Elinor Ostrom has been a splendid but nuanced advocate of indigenous approaches to economics and ecology, for example, she noted '“We have to get to the point where everyone recognizes if we do this together, we’re much better off in the next 20 years or 50 years,” she said. “The indigenous people in this country had a way of thinking seven generations into the future. We need to do more thinking about seven generations into the future.” here

The Mother Earth Water Walk began eight years ago, in the spring of 2003, as a result of the work of Anishinaabe elder Josephine Mandamin. She had grown up eating the fish and drinking the water on Manitou Island in Lake Superior and witnessed the collapse of the Great Lakes ecosystem during her lifetime. Today, most Anishinaabe communities have to boil their water before drinking it, and health agencies warn of the dangers of eating fish, once a staple of Great Lakes Indian Nations.

The Great Lakes hold 20 per cent of the fresh water in the world. But today the lakes region faces grave dangers: hydrofracking (fracturing of bedrock for oil and gas exploration), toxic releases, transport of radioactive waste, invasive species, oil refineries, huge consumption by bottled water companies and other corporate users along with the increasing privatization of water services for the 44 million people who get their drinking water from the lakes.

Josephine Mandamin felt compelled to take action about what was happening to the lakes. She asked herself “what will you do?” and, in the spring of 2003, answered the question by picking up a copper pail and walking around Lake Superior. Her mission was to raise awareness of threats to the lake and to teach people to love and care fore the water. Since then, every spring she and a small band of Anishinaabe and supporters have walked around one of the Great Lakes.

What will you do? “You have to decide what it is you are going to stand for,” Day explains. “Water is essential to life. We live in the water of the womb of our mother before we come into the world. We are birthed from water, our bodies are primarily water and we can’t survive without clean water. At some time in your life you have to take a stand.”

In Anishinaabe teachings, women are the caretakers of the water, entrusted with the responsibility to protect and speak for this precious resource. Through the Water Walk, women like Day will carry out this obligation, part of their original instructions from the Creator. They also hope to share their teachings with others by meeting with youth groups, religious congregations and other interested organizations along the way.

“We know that the water is living and there are many water spirits, and that’s who we sing to, but to most people, the water is not alive. When we commodify water, it becomes a product and we no longer think about it as a living thing,” she explains.

Day clarifies that Indigenous peoples are not trying to save the earth. “The earth will survive. The issue is whether we as humans will survive. For that to happen, we need to start thinking and behaving differently. The idea that ‘bigger is better’— well, just look at how huge dams and nuclear power plants have impacted the water. We hope to educate communities about the damage we are doing to our Mother Earth, to the plants and animals, and to the water.

“This is not just about Indigenous peoples,” she stresses. “Every place in the world there is something happening to the water.”


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