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Water is considered sacred in many indigenous communities and cultures around the world. For these communities, water is more than just a resource, it is a way of life and a crucial aspect of their cultural identity. Indigenous peoples have relied on water for their livelihood, spiritual practices, and traditional knowledge for generations. They have a deep understanding of their interconnectedness between water, land, and all living things. In many indigenous cultures, water is seen as a living entity with its own spirit, and it is believed that human have a responsibility to protect and care for it. For Indigenous peoples, water is not just a commodity, but a language, a community, and a source of knowledge and law.
As Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chief notes,
“Water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth. Its everything to us. Water is sacred, and it’s a symbol of our sovereignty.”.
Indigenous advocates have been at the forefront of efforts to address these issues, advocating for the protection and conservation of water sources and the recognition of Indigenous water rights. As Anishinaabe water protector Autumn Peltier has stated, “Water is medicine. Its not just a resource. It’s a right, and it’s a basic human right that everyone deserves to have.”.
Its not that Indigenous communities lack knowledge on issues and solutions regarding the environment. Indigenous communities understand the importance of preserving and conversing water for future generations. Traditional ecological knowledge has been passed on for generations that can help address water issues. As Haida elder and water advocate Guujaaw Notes, “We have to have a relationship with the land and water. Our people have lived here for thousands of years, and we have an understanding of how to live in balance with nature.”. It is essential that we listen to and learn from indigenous peoples and their traditional ecological knowledge to better understand how to protect and conserve water for future generations. The protection of water is not just a matter of environmental sustainability, but also a matter of human rights and cultural preservation.
Efforts to address Indigenous water issues require a holistic approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of water, land, and all living things. For many indigenous peoples, the destruction and contamination of water sources due to industrialization and development is a violation of their rights as well as a threat to their cultural identity. An Inuit leader Shelia Watt-Cloutier has stated, “Water is life, and its not just about the physical component of water. Its about the social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of water as well.”.
Indigenous communities in Canada and around the world continue to lead the way in protecting and conserving water. By listening to and learning from indigenous peoples and their traditional ecological knowledge, we can better understand how to protect and preserve this vital resource for future generations. Despite the efforts of Indigenous water advocates, there is still much work to be done to address indigenous water issues. According to the Council of Canadians, over 100 First Nations Communities in Canada continue to face boil water advisories, some for more than two decades.
Many indigenous communities have been fighting for their right to clean water for decades and their struggles continue today. Despite facing many challenged, Indigenous peoples around the world continue to protect and defend water as a sacred and essential part of their way of life. Their traditional ecological knowledge and practice are invaluable in the face of the current global water crisis, and it is crucial to recognize and respect their contributions to water conservation and sustainability.
From the Environment Unit at NWAC