Protecting clean and accessible water in the Great Lakes is at a crossroads. Since Europeans arrived on Turtle Island (home to many Indigenous nations) water has been exploited to serve the needs of the state (the USA and Canada in the Great Lakes region) and the consumer economy.
Severed from their own land-based identities, Europeans set out to conquer nature and the Indigenous peoples who were materially and spiritually braided to this continent. Lands, waters, and non-human life were not treated as relatives in creation by the newcomers, but inputs in the expansionist and extractivist origins of what we now call Canada and the USA.
The impacts and ethics of this exploitation lead governments and conservationists to establish pollution and extraction limits based on the water’s ability to serve human health (water quality) and ecosystem services (water quantity). Analyzing water’s chemistry, flow, and volume is the foundation for water governance in the Great Lakes and environmental wellbeing at large. This is an analysis cut loose from respectful relationships with water.
This approach has safeguarded water from many direct and short-term political and economic threats and has also improved our ecological literacy of water chemistry and hydrology. Still, many water policy professionals are frustrated by the gap between what we know and how well we are able to protect water in 2017.
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Great Lakes Commons was initiated and incubated as a project by On the Commons. A number of organizations and individuals from the U.S., Canada, and First Nations provided leadership and guidance from early on. These include the Council of Canadians, Blue Mountain Center, Detroit People’s Water Board, Vermont Law School Environmental Law Center, Blue Planet Project, FLOW for Water, and Food and Water Watch. We are a growing and open network of people, organizations and institutions from the Great Lakes bioregion who care passionately about these remarkable bodies of water. Together we are environmentalists and scientists, recreationalists and teachers, urban and rural, Native and non-native, people of faith and artists, food growers and public health advocates — people like you who want to see the Lakes thrive for generations to come. We are united in a desire to insure that they have a vibrant future and share a commitment to the long term transformation of the care and governance of the Great Lakes. Leadership of the Great Lakes Commons reflects an unusual and promising alliance of people from across Nations, geography, ancestry and traditions.
Laura Gilbert , a PhD student in the E4A project is completing an internship with GLC and contributed to this piece. With degrees in Bioresource Engineering and Integrated Water Resource Management, Laura now focuses on ways that policy can alter environmental values, perceptions, and attitudes to facilitate the implementation of environmental initiatives to lower water consumption.