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Place Matters -- decolonizing blue communities at the JEM event

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

On May 23, our CSJ Blue Community project was invited to speak on a panel as part of the Joint Ecological Ministry's event called: Decolonization and Climate Change.

Project Coordinator Paul Baines tried to weave some of the event's main points into the evolving work of this Blue Community project. During the previous evening and the morning before the panel, Paul learned from the three main speakers:

Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum), Idle No More

Deborah McGregor, York University

Jennifer Henry, KAIROS

Deborah on the left and Sylvia on the right.

Paul introduced himself and his ancestry then his Treaty territory and watershed which are both within the Michi Saagiig Nishaabeg territory.

He introduced the 3 original pledges of the Blue Community project which are to affirm the human right to water, limit and ban bottled water, and support public ownership and control of water infrastructure. We now also want this project to honour the sacredness of water and reconcile ourselves with place (the watersheds we belong to) and with Indigenous peoples (who we share this commons with).

While not directly about shorter showers and water pollution, our work is about water justice -- just like the climate justice work. We are looking who has access, affordability and authority when it comes to freshwater and how are we thinking about the needs of the next 7 generations. As a sacred gift, we promote giving back to water through reciprocity, prayer, and gratitude.

photo on top: Sr. Margo Richie (CSJ) facilitating the small group discussions.

photo on bottom: Sylvia, Deborah, and Jennifer speaking Thursday morning.

Place matters. That was one of the entry points Paul used to connect to the speakers. We are not just talking about water justice 'somewhere' but here on Turtle Island with the Doctrine of Discovery, the Treaties, the reserves, the Indian Act, the Residential Schools, the banning of Indigenous languages/governance/ceremony, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and so on -- including the current intentions about "reconciliation". Ignoring place misses a key lesson water gives us.

Paul talked about he uses maps when introducing the Blue Community project to show the size and health of the watersheds, the reserves, the Drinking Water Advisories, and the Indigenous territories. Many of those maps are highlighted in the Catholic Women's League post.

When Paul toured each Sister house last year to introduce the Blue Community project, he often shared the time with a local and Indigenous water protector.

In London, Lela George (Oneida Nation)

In Toronto, Deb Denard (Anishinabek Nation)

In Peterborough, Dorothy Taylor (Anishinabek Nation)

In Sudury, Bruce McComber (Anishinabek Nation)

In Sault Ste. Marie, Candace Day Neveau (Anishinabek Nation)

and in North Bay, we watch a video about and prayed for Josephine Mandamin (Anishinabek Nation)

Honouring the experiences, teachings, and needs of Indigenous nations helps reverse the domination of white/settler/Christian voices in Canadian society and affirms the need and respect for Indigenous self-determination.

Part of our Blue Community work is making the places and people made invisible by the dominant culture more visible. Water injustices can't be addressed with the same mindset that created the injustice in the first place. How can we expand our understanding water injustices? Paul uses Rutgerd Boelens framework which is basically:

4 types of injustice:

1. Lack of public participation in water governance.

2. Unfair distribution of water resource benefits.

3. Non-recognition of cultural frameworks from locals and Indigenous peoples.

4. Lack of intergenerational equity for sustainability

Boelens also names four water justice struggles for change.

1. The struggle over resources. Who gets water access, who pays for water infrastructure, and who benefits from water policy.

2. The struggle over rules, rights, and norms that define how water resources are being used.

3. The struggle over who decides on water rules, rights, and norms. Who has (or claims) authority.

4. The struggle over discourses and representations that ultimately legitimize authority and our relations with each other and with the waters.

This framework reinforces what our keynote speakers were stressing. We need to address the systemic issues that created the injustice, including the issues of political authority and multi-generational inclusion.

A quick group stretch during the keynote presentations.

In response to the reflections and strategies above, Paul summarized (it was a 15 min presentation) what the CSJ is doing as a Blue Community.

We are learning about the Drinking Water Advisories on First Nations reserves and holding the Liberal government accountable on its campaign promise to end these advisories. We are learning about how the Province of Ontario gives water permits to bottling companies like Nestle and we are asking the Provincial government to listen to grassroots groups like the Wellington Water Watchers and:

  1. Say “No to Nestlé” in Wellington County.

  2. Phase out the bottled water industry in Ontario within ten years.

  3. Respect the duty to consult Indigenous communities.

  4. Ensure public ownership and control of water in Ontario.

We are connecting with local, regional, and international groups also working on water justice issues such as the Council of Canadians, the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, Ecologos, and the Sacred Water Circle. As you can see and read about in many of our blog posts and newsletters, we have been very busy talking with groups and schools about the Blue Communities project and its related issues and opportunities.

Since place matters, Paul closed with the news that in 2019 the project will support the development of a land and water acknowledgement for each Sister house. Honouring place and its Indigenous peoples will deepen our connection to this shared water commons and sacred gift.

CSJ Blue Community Coordinator Paul Baines in a break out group after the morning talks.

Contact Paul by phone or email to schedule a summer or fall workshop for your house and read more about this goal in Newsletter #3 (the June edition).

Were you at this JEM event? What did you think? What else can we reflect and act on since this timely and welcomed event? Please leave us a comment.

By Paul Baines
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