While every day is World Water Day for Onkwehon:we people, some settlers are also starting to wake up to their responsibilities of taking care of Mother Earth’s life blood.
On Sunday, March 22, Prof. Deb McGregor of the Whitefish River First Nation and University of Toronto addressed members of Concerned Citizens of Brant (CCOB) and the ecumenical justice group, Kairos, at St. Paul’s United Church in Paris, Ontario.
The student of grandmother Josephine Mandamin (founder of the Mother Earth Water Walk), educator, academic and self-described hockey mom was invited to share some of her 15 years research and insights about traditional knowledge and water policy in Ontario by Paris resident, Anne Ehrlich.
Ehrlich is a seasoned academic herself with international public health and participatory research experience. She has been actively involved in mobilizing her Brant County community to stop a 600-acre gravel pit proposal by Dufferin/Holcim for the past four years. The site is within the Paris water supply protection zone as well the area governed by the 1784 Haldimand Deed.
Like the Walkerton Water Tragedy of 2000, the traditional caretakers of the land were not consulted before the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources issued a permit in 1974 without any public input whatsoever.
“Water governance is something we all talk about in the policy world,” says McGregor, “but no one really knows what it means…In my mind, it’s all about how to make responsible decisions about water and you certainly don’t need a PhD for that.”
She went on to explain that water sustainability is all about relationships. And that once you obtain knowledge, whether it be based in traditional teachings or modern science, you are responsible for sharing it.
“This can be the overwhelming part”, said McGregor, who consulted with numerous First Nations knowledge keepers for a submission by the Chiefs of Ontario for the Walkerton Inquiry. “But we’re also given the gifts we need to do the job.”
Putting our minds together in a good way for the sake of future generations was also the theme at a gathering upriver on the Grand the next day.
Jointly organized by the students of Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo, the Sixth Annual World Water Day Graduate Fair & Water Celebration was held on March 23 at the Paul Martin Centre on the WLU campus.
Morning keynote speaker and author, Chris Turner (The Leap: How To Survive And Thrive In The Sustainable Economy), shared grassroots ideas about to get from “less bad to much better for the world’s water supply”.
In the afternoon, Robert Sandford of the United Nations Institute for Water, Environment and Health (Hamilton campus) spoke about some of the policy-level changes we need to get the “Future We Want”.
When asked about how the Duty To Consult the traditional caretakers of the land outlined in section 35(1) of the 1982 Canadian Constitution Act applies to high-level decision-making, Sandford described a “time bomb”.
Failing to consult and accommodate Aboriginal rights and responsibilities is “outrightly and outrageously illegal”, affirms the water security expert. But he believes a recent agreement between the Northwest Territories and the province of Alberta might mark a turning point.
Northern Voices, Northern Waters: NWT Water Stewardship Strategy (http://www.nwtwaterstewardship.ca) levels the field with regard to decision-making within the MacKenzie River watershed, establishing a framework that can be implemented elsewhere.
The circle was completed on March 24 with a Water Innovations Walk co-hosted by the Wilfrid Laurier University Office of Aboriginal Initiatives, Office of Sustainability and the non-profit organization, REEP Green Solutions.
Participants received a traditional territorial greeting by Innu/Inuit/British elder Jean Becker, lunch and a tour of the Centre for Cold Regions & Water Science and local sustainable water and energy demonstration projects.
Opening and closing ceremonies were performed by Dorothy McCue Taylor, founding grandmother of the Sacred Water Circle from Curve Lake First Nation.