Anishinaabe on World Water Day

Anishinabe Women, Youth & Elders Hold Ceremony, Public Event on Lake of the Woods, March in Kenora for World Water Day

Grassroots Indigenous Water Defence hosted an event at McLeod Park to raise awareness about threats to local waterways, in solidarity with Indigenous communities protecting water around the world Kenora, Treaty #3

WWD3.jpgOn March 22nd at McLeod Park, Anishinabe women & Treaty 3 People from the Grassroots Indigenous Water Defence (GIWD) conducted a traditional water ceremony on Lake of the Woods to honour our sacred connection to the water. A ceremony that protect the local lakes and waterways from threats including the Energy East Tarsands Pipeline, Tarsands bitumen and natural gas transported by rail, industrial logging and mining, destructive hydro dams, and other forms of industrial pollution. The march was followed by a rally-style speaking event and a march through the streets of Kenora.

The ceremony is being held today to mark World Water Day, declared March 22 in 1993 by the United Nations. World Water Day is celebrated by people around world. Today’s ceremony and march are in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples on the frontlines of struggles for clean water and against environmental destruction all over the world.

WWD2.jpgNancy Morrison is an 86 year old Anishinaabe Elder. “All water in itself is our life and this is why we have to protect it,” she says. “I was told as a child to protect the water, protect Earth and if you don’t respect it you will face consequences,” says Morrison. “It’s up to us as women we have been given responsibility to watch over it, and we should all do it together,” she says.

Grassroots Indigenous Water Defence is a group of Anishinabe women and supporters from around the Kenora area that has been organizing and mobilizing around local water protection issues, particularly the Energy East Pipeline. The group held a public demonstration on Family Day, in February, and hosted a public speaking event, also against the pipeline and tarsands extraction, in Kenora earlier in March.

TransCanada’s Energy East Tarsands Pipeline will pump 1.1 million barrels a day of Tarsands Bitumen from the tarsands in Alberta, through Kenora and other Treaty #3 Territories, to refineries and export facilities in the East. Between 2 and 6 barrels of clean water are used (depending on extraction methods) for every barrel of tarsands oil produced. Tarsands bitumen is drastically harder to clean from water because it is heavier, as well as diluted with toxic chemicals. A spill from the Energy East pipeline would spill as much as 2.7 million litres of oil into local waterways in the minimum 22 minutes it would take TransCanada to turn off the valve in case of a spill. Activists point out that a breach of the pipeline is terribly likely, as the project is a retrofitting of an old natural gas pipeline not designed for tarsands bitumen.

The ceremony will be followed by speeches on behalf of local water issues, singing and drumming, and a march through the streets of Kenora.

Among the local water issues to be highlighted today are Grassy Narrows’ ongoing struggle against mercury and industrial logging, and the fight of the NamekosipiiwAnishinaapek to save Big Falls in Lac Seul Traditional Territory.

An oil spill from the pipeline or a rail accident is likely and would not be the first major industrial spill in the region to poison local waterways.

In the 1960’s, the Dryden Pulp and Paper Mill dumped more than 9000 kgs of mercury into the Wabigoon River, poisoning it and the English River System, as well as the People of Grassy Narrows and White Dog First Nations. While the People of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) continue to fight for proper healthcare and compensation for the mercury poisoning the newborns still suffer from more than 40 years later, they also face ongoing threats of increased mercury levels from proposed industrial logging operations throughout their Territory, despite a 12 year old blockade. Scientific studies indicate that clearcut logging in the boreal forest can raise mercury in fish to unsafe levels.

Billy Fobister, 15, is a member of the Grassy Narrows Youth Group who was also present at the Family Day demonstration. “The worry I have is that if the trees were to be chopped down, the mercury levels in the lakes would rise and we wouldn't be able to fish because there will be so much mercury in them,” he says. “If the mercury levels are too high, the fish can't be eaten—if someone were to eat the fish with the mercury levels so high, they would get mercury poisoning,” says Fobister. “Eating fish is part of the Anishinaabe way of life. Fishing is in our blood, so is hunting. We want to continue that, but we can't if there is no fish and no animals.”

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Another local struggle being highlighted today is that of the NamekosipiiwAnishinaape People to save Big Falls, where the Province and a so-called alternative energy company want to build a hydro electric dam on a sacred site on their traditional canoe route on Trout Lake River.

The fight to save Big Falls is emblematic because of the nature of its interconnection with other industrial projects that will destroy local waterways. Power from the dam would be used for, amongst other things, local pumping stations for the Energy East Tarsands Pipeline and regional mining expansion. It is also emblematic because of the nature of its status as a traditional and sacred site, and the sacred nature of water.

Kaaren Dannenmann is a lead Trapping Instructor with Treaty #3 Wanii’igewin Trapper Education and a figurehead and lead organizer of the Save Big Falls campaign. She says, “the fight of the NamekosipiiwAnishinaapek against Horizon Inc. to save Big Falls from their hydro electric plans is part and parcel of the fight of Indigenous women all over the world to protect water and its sacred rights to carry out its Original Instructions as given by the Creator since time before memory.”

CONTACT: Grassroots Indigenous Water Defence, 807 407 2417

Copied and shared with permission from press released dated March 22, 2015