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Solidarity In Action: water unites

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

On Friday September 24th, about 100 people united around climate and water justice.

For residents in the Guelph area and for members of Six Nations of the Grand River, the day connected the Global Climate Strike Day of action with Blue Triton's (formally Nestlé) ongoing and illegal occupation of Indigenous lands and waters. This water bottling plant is a 3 hour walk south of Guelph and within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy's land jurisdiction (under the Haldimand Tract land grant).

People first gathered at Guelph City Hall to remind the public, the media, and the politicians that bottled water is not wanted, is wasteful, and about the chronic lack of clean tap water for many First Nations (including 90% of Six Nations residents who lack this human right). Some people started to walk to the Blue Triton plant, while meeting up with an organized and vocal group of students from the University of Guelph. A few hours later, a larger group formed at the Puslinch Community Centre that combined the walkers, non-walkers, and leadership from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Led by the Haudenosaunee flag, everyone then walked a short distance to the Blue Triton bottling plant. Click on the photos to see them full size.

A new Cease and Desist Statement was given to Blue Triton by Confederacy leadership, while non-Indigenous allies blocked trucks from entering for a few hours. Why the direct action? The Statement reads in part:

"You may have the permission of the settler colonial government to carry out this activity -- but these are Haudenosaunee territories that you are operating on, and as the holders of ancestral title over this territory, we declare your activities to remove aquifer waters under our territories unpermitted and demand that you cease your activity immediately.

This walk and Cease and Desist letter are mostly a repeat of a similar event 2 years ago, but that letter was given to Nestlé (who ignored it). In 2021 things are different. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy have enacted a moratorium on all new development in the Haldimand Tract. The effort is called Protect the Tract. Here is one quote from their website:

The Haudenosaunee intend to exercise our jurisdiction over our lands and waters in a way that maintains the delicate balance between Creation and humans, focusing on sustainability and responsiveness to climate change to protect waterways and ecologically sensitive areas.

This union of forces on September 24th makes the links between climate justice and water justice (water access and scarcity, plastics production, and honouring the Treaties). As you can see here on this banner covering up the water bottling sign, the demands for the Global Climate Strike are:

  1. Deny Blue Triton a water bottling permit (they are asking for renewals to take over 3 million litres of water a day from the area)

  2. Phase out all permits to take water for bottling in Ontario.

What is interesting to note here too is the growing call to return this groundwater spring to Indigenous people. In recent years, the calls for Land Back have grown with occupations of land by Indigenous peoples. No longer asking for recognition, Land Back strategies assert jurisdiction and ancestral and nationhood responsibilities. Consistent with the theme and hashtag of the day #UpRootTheSystem, Land Back shifts what is possible. Watch Pam Palmater explain Land Back in this video.

The event on September 24th is a good marker of where the politics of bottled water are at:

  • Water and Climate justice are intertwined.

  • Settler governments can not give permits for water without Indigenous consent.

  • Water is for life, not for profit. Water bottling corporations should not have access to water when people do not.

  • First Nations Band Council governments are not the sole authority on or off the reserve and especially not for the larger traditional territory. Indigenous nations are also reclaiming their traditional forms of governance.

  • When people act, governments and corporations sometimes listen. Nestlé sold its operations across North America last spring after years of its brand being attacked as a water thief. New Ontario permits (for very large takings) now require consent of the local municipality (however not local First Nations).

What shifts do you see taking place within this issue of water commodification and grassroots action?

By Paul Baines
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