PEOPLE'S WATER CAMPAIGN 2021
“The intersection of water security, racial justice, and social justice is an important opportunity to move toward equity among peoples and restore a reciprocal relationship with nature… The story of how humanity contends with the climate crisis is not yet written. There is still time to restore just relationships among people and a reciprocal relationship with nature and live in peace with each other and with Mother Earth.”
These are the words that launched the People’s Water Campaign in 2020 when we started to recognize the presence of powerful ripples in our water protection work – ripples created by other forces and movements both at home and abroad. While we did not know the exact source of these ripples, their presence inspired us as an organization to look around us with curious minds and open hearts to investigate their origins. As a team, as a board, and as a community, we asked ourselves & others what it means to protect & cherish water in these trying times. The result was a resounding call for centering justice more deeply in our work.
And that’s what we did.
In the first year of the People’s Water Campaign, this meant learning more about the intersectional issues impacting and complicating water protection work. We heard from expert scientists, policymakers, Indigenous peoples, politicians, financial experts, environmental advocates and more who each affirmed in their own way that modernizing water protection means embracing the ways our social & environmental systems are deeply linked – a truth which calls for an intersectional approach to confronting both social & environmental injustice. We also held the first People’s Water Convention “Watershed 2020” where we were given two guiding signposts for the future of our water protection work. Firstly, we were called to deepen our own personal relationships with water and secondly, to center indigenous sovereignty in the water justice movement.
As we moved into the second year of the Peoples’ Water Campaign with all these learnings in hand, we were finally able to clearly name the origins of the ripples that sparked the PWC: the three crises of climate, colonialism, and capitalism. With this newfound clarity on the larger forces at play in our water justice work, we grounded our actions into two overarching goals in 2021: to reveal these three crises and their intersections with water protection to more people across Ontario, and then to build power to confront them.
We worked to connect the dots between communities and grassroots campaigns fighting for climate justice, social change, and water protection in their communities. Having walked over 200kms, visiting up to 20 communities, we learned a lot about the perseverance, dedication and commitment required to take on corporations, developers, and governments. Phase one of our Ear to the Groundwater Walking Tour connected the dots between Aberfoyle, Elora, Fergus, and Erin; all of whom have been fighting against water taking permits for bottling. Phase two of the Ear to the Groundwater Walking Tour explored the devastating implications of gravel mining on the natural environment, the water supply, and the health, safety and wellbeing of communities. Cataract, Belfountain, Acton, Rockwood, Guelph, Puslinch, Mount Nemo, and Campbellville all have something in common; they are all subjects of gravel mining pits. The final phase of the walking tour wrapped up with Maryhill, Cambridge, Shingletown, Wilmot, Kitchener, Waterloo, and Elmira. A variety of issues were brought to the forefront on this tour. From the MZO for an Amazon warehouse in Cambridge, the LandBack Camp in Waterloo, to the homelessness in Kitchener; we had many intimate conversations with community members who have personally put themselves on the line to fight the good fight. No matter what community we visited, we saw people organizing as if it was possible to win. And in many cases, they are winning. We’ve kicked Nestlé out of the country, and we will get Blue Triton out. We’ve fought and won against the Xinyi glass plan, the Amazon warehouse doesn’t stand a chance. We’ve seen Indigenous movements and Land Back camps grow, we will fight for Indigenous Sovereignty and hold our colonial governments accountable.
After walking to reveal the impacts of the climate crisis, colonialism, and capitalism, we organized the second Peoples’ Water Convention “Watershed 2021”. There, we heard from Indigenous land & water defenders, representatives at Queens Park, youth taking on the climate crisis, and many other earth stewards leading grassroots movements within their own communities to protect water, land, and each other. In particular, we centered Indigenous voices throughout Watershed 2021 to deepen our listening and to encourage each of us to apply insights & learnings towards decolonizing our water protection & water governance work. Some important signposts from this year’s Watershed plenary are:
(1) Support Landback - Indigenous peoples have been in relationship with the land and waters as stewards for millennia and have an intrinsic knowledge in deep memory of how to manage an economy in balance with nature. Lands and waters are dying and cannot sustain more of the reckless extraction, consumption and development of colonial systems.
- The health and safety of Indigenous peoples are tied to their connections to the land. The health and safety of all lands and waters are tied to their connections with their original stewards – Indigenous peoples
- Learn the TRUTH about Landback movements past and present. Recognize that the state and our colonial legal framework have a monopoly on development and violence. Colonial laws are based on the extinguishment of Indigenous Peoples. If we are not pushing back on state sanctioned development and violence, we are complicit.
- Support the Building of generational tools for the peaceful return of land
(2) Start from somewhere in your reparations work
- Start with your own sense of what is just and fair
- Build respectful relationships rooted in deep listening
- Do your own work
- Hold our colonial governance structures accountable and challenge legal frameworks of the colonial state (policies such as the Places to Grow Act)
(3) Centre Indigenous Sovereignty in all our work.
Recognize and lift up Inheritance governance systems. Learn about and recognize the nature of systemic conflicts between Band Councils and Traditional governance systems.
(4) Return Ancestral artifacts and Human remains
Overall, the second year of the Peoples’ Water Campaign allowed us to ‘connect the dots’ on multiple levels. We saw the impacts of the climate crisis, colonialism, and capitalism with our own eyes and detailed the stories of the many different communities facing these threats in their backyards. We lifted up the voices & experiences of the people living daily with the impacts of these crises. Perhaps most importantly, we built more power, resources, and will for a water future that looks more secure, just, decolonized, and anti-capitalist.
We now walk forward into the third year of the People’s Water Campaign with a deeper understanding of the intersectional nature of the crises we face, with more communities awakened to the plight of people & planet, and with an expanded network of individuals & organizations willing to take critical steps to challenge the status quo which continues to perpetuate injustice in many different yet interlinked forms. We need to be committed, persistent, bold, and united in our advocacy, education, & mobilization to confront the climate crisis and protect water in 2022. It will take all of this and more to meaningfully move our society towards both the immediate actions and systemic changes needed to address the threats of climate change, colonialism, and capitalism. It is a challenging yet worthy path we will walk in year 3 of the People’s Water Campaign to ensure water is protected & progress is made on the threats we face in Ontario. We are more committed than ever to take on this challenge and we look forward to walking beside each of you on this path in 2022.
Watershed 2021 was a virtual conference on Saturday, October 16th which centered grassroots and Indigenous voices to connect the dots between local water issues. For anyone who did not purchase a ticket to Watershed 2021, you can access the videos of the sessions below:
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