On September 19th, CSJ Blue Communities coordinator Paul Baines hosted two talks at the Sister's Residence about the water project. What follows are some of the slides, photos, and key points from the day. Share your comments below. If you want to skip right to a list of action steps, go here.
We started off both talks with a land and waters acknowledgment.
As we gather together on this beautiful day, let’s acknowledge the following at the start and carry these words throughout this event and our shared futures here in London.
The name “London” was given by the English settlers who wanted to imprint their distant homeland onto the homelands of the Indigenous nations who lived on and with these lands and waters – and still do. As we seek truths about the state of the waters, let’s also be truthful about the here and now.
Unlike the Thames river in England, the river here is called Deshkan Ziibi by the Anishinaabe people who have also shared these lands and waters over time with the Haudenosaunee peoples (such as the Oneida Nation) and Attawandaran peoples.
Our gratitude for this place must be matched by our commitment to care for her as these Indigenous nations have done for thousands of years and continue to this day. How do our thoughts, prayers, and actions repair the damaged relationships caused by colonization and pollution and prepare a good life for generations to come?
Let’s acknowledge the water here specifically. Not as anyone’s home or resource or playground, but as the source for all life – a life force itself. To Stoney Creek, as connected to the Thames River, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, the Great Lakes, and our blue planet – may our work today be a respectful act of love and reciprocity.
In the morning, Paul talked to the Sisters about what the Blue Communities project is and why it's so important.
We looked at communities close to London and in the Great Lakes who don't have safe and affordable access to tap water. Not only are there about 100 Drinking Water Advisories across Canada for First Nations communities, there are 6 reserves within a few hours from London on DWAs. Even in the world's richest country, over 100,000 households in Detroit have lost tap water access because they can't afford the bills. While the average household in London Ontario pays less than a dollar a day for water, some households in Detroit are being forced to pay over $100 month with 40% of Detroit residents live in poverty.
There are many reasons why our water neighbours don't have access to drinking water and none of them include the faults of the those without water. Bad policies (such as the Indian Act) and government decisions that put investor and corporate interests ahead of people's interests are the root of the problem.
Coincidently, the Wellington Water Watchers were releasing their new video about bottled water on the day of our talk. It clearly illustrates how the bottled water industry works in Ontario, why it's such a terrible option for ecological and social reasons, and how we can work together to stop corporations like Nestle from turning the sacred gift of water into a consumer product.
Watch the WWW video below:
After talking about water as a human right and the unsustainable and unnecessary use of bottled water, we then looked at the challenges of keeping water public -- within public control for quality and affordability.
After heavy rains, most cities and Canada release raw sewage into local rivers and lakes -- 197 billion litres in 2016. According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 36% of wastewater and 29% of drinking water infrastructure is rated to be in poor or fair condition. They also estimate it would cost 61 billion dollars to upgrade these systems, while the Federal government has only committed 2 billion over 4 years for water investments. Will the provinces and municipalities pick up the extra 59 billion? Not likely. Will our waterworks systems continue to fail and put our health and waterways at risk? Very likely. Will private corporations want to buy public waterworks systems and capitalize on this funding gap and profit opportunity? Most definitely.
Additionally, the Federal government has committed 4.6 billion to end the 100+ DWAs in First Nations communities. But this only covers 70% of total needed investments. Water privatization is creeping into trade agreements and water corporations benefit when public water systems are underfunded. We can look to the examples of Hamilton (ended a 10-year failed contract with Philips Utilities Management Corporation in 2014), in Europe, and beyond to see how water privatization uses public needs and funds for private profit. Just as we see with food and medicine, malnutrition and sickness are not caused by a lack of bread or cures, but by people's ability to pay.
With 20% of the worlds surface freshwater right in our backyard, we have the responsibility to protect water a shared commons and sacred gift. Our own local water issues are connected to the health of the whole. These waters have too many nutrients, not enough wetlands, and are overused as a resource of consumption and disposal. We are joining 18 other Blue Communities in Canada and hopefully more will uphold this responsibility.
How can we integrate our opening land and water acknowledgement into this water work? It's not enough to acknowledge what has been damaged without making amends. How can our Blue Communities project also be an effort for water reconciliation? KAIROS has been doing Water Reconciliation workshops for a few years for a deeper understanding about place and the Indigenous nations who continue to be the original water keepers. The afternoon program included activist, organizer, and healer Yeyatalunyuha (Lela) George from the Oneida Nation. Her dad David also shared his experiences about water quality and connection.
Lela's presentation reviewed her background in protecting mother earth and lately she's been asking herself?
If there are so many water issues around the world, what is happening in my own community?
How can I get involved?
Will our leaders fight for our water?
How long will we wait for someone else to fix it?
What do I know about water that I can teach others?
Who do I trust?
How can I help my own community with water issues?
How is the oil pipeline connected to water?
Where are they building oil pipelines in my own community?
Lela's described the water issues on her First Nation, some of her teachings about water and the following points on why water is sacred:
From the time we enter this world we are surrounded by water.
In my creation story it is water and water life that was here first.
We are 70 percent made of water and the way the moon changes effects the waves of the ocean and so it effects us in the same way.
So you see we are connected to all of creation because it gives life to all.
One part of Paul's presentation included the above map and a list of 4 kinds of water injustice struggles. Rutgerd Boelens defined these 4 and they hopefully deepen our understanding when thinking about water access, quality, and affordability.
Who gets access to water?
Who gets to make the rules?
Who has the authority to make the rules?
How is authority legitimized by society?
How can our learnings, reflections, and actions commit to shifting the status quo so that water is governed as sacred and as the source of life? How can we let water teach us to share this place with respect, reciprocity, and responsibility?