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Guest Blog - People’s Great Lakes: Heal, Connect & Protect

People of diverse backgrounds, occupations, positions, experiences and histories gathered together for two days in Toronto (ON) for The People’s Great Lakes Summit 2.0: Planning Policy Action to collaborate and network to understand how to restore and protect the Great Lakes. At the event, I immediately flagged the word restore – how can we restore the Great Lakes? To what end are the Great Lakes restored? What does restoration look like? To restore is to bring back or reinstate; what are we trying to bring back/reinstate the Great Lakes to?

Heal

A series of conversations and activities throughout the two days illuminated how problematic the term restoration is – the colonial histories carried forth with such western ways of approaching water (and land) management. We must decolonize and indigenize our ways of understanding and approaching water protection. This requires a complete reframing and restructuring of our current systems of water protection. We cannot move towards restoration; we must move towards healing.

Connect

Healing the Great Lakes requires connecting people to water and building relationships between peoples and waters. People need to feel connected to the Great Lakes Basin to feel motivated to protect the water and land. The question becomes – how can people connect to water?

One of the Summit 2.0 participants shared an important teaching with the group: to heal we need to feel connected, and to feel connected we need to be out in the land and water. Connection/connectedness is not something that someone can teach another person, it must be felt, learned and experienced for oneself. While it is easy to feel disconnected in the concrete jungles of urban cities, we must take time to immerse ourselves in the land and water to build our connectedness. We need to step off the cement and into the woods to understand and feel what connection is.

Most (if not all) Summit 2.0 participants appeared to be very touched by this teaching shared. I hope that everyone works to build, develop and nourish connections with the Great Lakes. Relationships are reciprocal and in constant motion, and we must remember that our relationship with water is no different. It is our duty and responsibility as human beings to protect water.

Protect

Another Summit 2.0 participant expressed “we need to walk the walk; we need to stand up and say ‘I will it do it for the water’ just like Grandmother Josephine.” To do it for the water is to do it for life – the plants, animals, people, all of Creation. Nothing will be accomplished if we only use our heads and talk the talk – we need to use our hearts and walk the walk.

While the Summit’s goal was for participants to collaborate on policy change for water protection in the Great Lakes Basin, I believe that we accomplished something much greater. We gained the insight on how to disrupt and dismantle our current water governance systems and policies. The solution is simple: people need to connect with the land and water to heal and protect the Great Lakes.

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Stephanie Woodworth is a graduate student at the University of Toronto, one of 16 youth serving on Waterlution's Youth Advisory Board for Great Waters Challenge, and one of 2 delegates selected to represent Canada at the World Youth Parliament for Water and 8th World Water Forum in 2018. In addition to being a full participant, Stephanie volunteered to draft and deliver the land acknowledgement at the start of The People’s Great Lakes Summit 2.0: Planning Policy Action on November 13-14, 2017 in Toronto.