OHSWEKEN – For National Water Day on Wednesday, March 22, advocates for the preservation of water and aquifers alike gathered within the board room of the G.R.E.A.T Building at the request of Dr. Dawn Hill and her children Makasa and Cody Looking Horse to hear ideas and traditional teachings.
Onondaga author Dr. Theresa McCarthy discussed ‘A Brief Historical Overview of The Haudenosaunee Experience of Water-based Colonial Injustice’, Dr. Patricia Chow Fraser presented a plan for future water security, Dr. Nancy Doubleday offered information on how to preserve rights to water, and McPherson Scholar and Akwesasne clanmother Louise McDonald presented Haudenosaunee water teachings.
Each presenter carried eye-opening knowledge in their respective fields, but it was McDonald’s information and powerful voice that offered a high impact—especially for those that do not understand how intertwined water is with the Haudenosaunee and other indigenous cultures.
“We can recognize how unique this planet is and recognize that the essential building blocks for life are in our water. So, I don’t understand how other people can’t see that,” said McDonald.
She explained the descent of Sky Woman in the Haudenosaunee Creation Story draws the connection to the fact that she came to an earth covered in water.
“The teachings around water is vested in the woman,” she said. “’Cause life doesn’t happen unless we carry it.”
She explained that the proposed idea for the youth to monitor the environment and water quality is an idea she agrees with—students in her home reserve of Akwesasne won an award for restoring the wetlands in their community.
“I think working with the youth is essential because our babies can’t be born without water,” she said. “Our women can’t hold babies unless they have water in their systems.”
“I think the basic element of life has to be at the forefront of every issue,” she said. “I know those teachings transcend from our knowledge not just of the earth but of the constellations. And I know that there’s knowledge within our people that talks about how the constellations position themselves to determine how much rain we’re gonna get.”
She explained that the word ‘iokenoron’ (yo-geh-no-lo) refers to how valuable water is as the base word ‘kanoron” (ga-no-lo) is a measure of sacredness.
“So, for me and the teachings that I do for the young people we talk about women as water, and men as fire,” she said. “But they have to compliment and work together to keep the essential elements to life.”
But she said that the Haudenosaunee are not alone in linking women to water.
“In our ceremonial practices, it’s a given that water is a part of it,” she said. “In many indigenous stories across not just the Americas, but in the Hawaiian Islands and in New Zealand a lot of their deities are women from the sea, or women from the ocean.”
McDonald explained that the puberty rites of passage in Ohero:kon takes youth through the river journey; symbolically linked to the tasks of Sky Woman. The young women and men have to develop a respectful relationship with the water as well as hold reverence to it.
“With our young men—if you can’t respect the river, you can’t respect a woman because they’re one of the same.”
“I think it’s timely. It was prophesized a long time ago that the last big war that will be fought on this planet will be over water. So, we’re now heading to those water wars. There was a time when I grew up and that was many moons ago, it was unthinkable to see water in plastic bottles. It was—go to the river, go to the well, carry the water in and there was an appreciation for having to go through a physical act to retrieve that water and the old people that I grew up with would say ‘there will be a day when that water will be so precious’. And we’re there, we’ve arrived and I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime but here we are.
“But you go to any community and water is so essential and important.”
It is hoped for in the future that youth from Six Nations will monitor the wetlands and the waterways within the community—as well as help to maintain healthy ecosystems.