Water Philosophy: Indigenous Laws Treat Water with Awe and Reverence Rather Than as a Resource to Be Managed

By Walkem, Ardith | Alternatives Journal, September-October 2007 | Go to article overview

Water Philosophy: Indigenous Laws Treat Water with Awe and Reverence Rather Than as a Resource to Be Managed


Walkem, Ardith, Alternatives Journal


THE EXAMPLE of the Siska watershed highlights important differences between the philosophies and worldviews that guide decision making in indigenous and Canadian societies. When discussing the BC government's decision to allow the logging of the Siska watershed (then the last untouched watershed in the Nlaka'pamux territory on the eastern side of the Fraser River and a place of tremendous spiritual and cultural importance), a Nlaka'pamux elder once told me that the problem with the newcomers was that they were famished. She explained that newcomers never stop eating away at the waters, at the land, at the trees, at the fish. Newcomers would log, mine, build subdivisions and highways, and fish to the point of extinction and still never feel full or satisfied. This observation is key to understanding both the problem and a way to chart a new course in our relationship with water--a way to end the famine, to end the incessant hunger for land and water, and to find a way to be full and to live on the land in peace. Instead of newcomer notions of predictability and control, of wealth based on accumulation and exclusion, what is needed is a greater appreciation of indigenous peoples' ecological knowledge and laws. Currently, decision making regarding water and land is impoverished and constrained, taking into account only a limited number of people and measuring impacts over an infinitesimal period of time. We need to shift the way we view water and our relationship with the world. It is not better and improved water management that is needed but, rather, a real and lasting commitment to managing our own actions in a way that respects all life forms that share the water and depend upon it for survival. Preserving water into the future will require a fundamental shift in how Canadians live upon the land and assess the impacts of their actions. The development of an ethic of hope and responsibility--an ethic that recognizes that change is both possible and necessary. Recognition (meaningful and not merely superficial) of indigenous laws provides hope for the future survival not only of indigenous peoples and cultures but also of the water and everything that depends upon it.

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Water Philosophy: Indigenous Laws Treat Water with Awe and Reverence Rather Than as a Resource to Be Managed
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