Ethics & an Invitation

Boozhoo First Nation community leaders & members,

My spirit name is Misko Anungo Kwe (Red Star), and I am Migizi (Bald Eagle) clan.

I am an Ojibwe Anishinaabe kwe, and a member of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek (Whitefish Lake First Nation),  residing in the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario area.

In the spring of 2009 I started the Empty Glass for Water campaign. I felt an urgency to raise awareness that 1 in 6 of our First Nation communities across Canada do not have safe drinking water. Water is a human right. Water is a essential for all life. If we know this, why is it that all people in Canada don’t have access to it?

The campaign is simple; there are two ways to participate and affect change.

First, there is the ‘glass action’. I ask people to mail in an empty glass for water to the Prime Minister of Canada so that the people in our communities are not invisible anymore. A letter can be shredded, but a glass is a physical object that is not easily disposed of, and a reminder that we are not going away. A glass made of glass, is fragile like our children. We must get a glass standing in the Prime Minister’s office for each person in our communities that goes without access to safe drinking water. Please participate.

Second, I ask people, women especially, to ‘greet, pray, semaa’ at all bodies of water. Semaa is the Ojibwe word for tobacco, and it is sacred. It is a goal that we visit all bodies of water and offer a gift of tobacco (or whatever medicine plant that you use), a song or a prayer to the water. We need to greet all bodies of water in this way. Women around the world are being asked to do this, as their grandmothers did. I am tracking all the places that are visited, on a world map on this website. Please participate.

On September 10th, 2009 the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-In-Chut Atleo signed the Empty Glass for Water Campaign resolutions, after being approved and adopted without opposition.

On January 24, 2010 in Markham, Ontario our Empty Glass for Water motion was passed with no opposition at the Canadian Federation of Students of Ontario general meeting, and again at the Northern Ontario meeting, meaning all Ontario university student union locals support the campaign.

In May of this year, at the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) national meeting in Ottawa, Ryerson University put forth a motion that the Empty Glass for Water campaign be supported by all CFS student locals… over 600,000 students across Canada. It passed unanimously.

So what does this all mean? It means that there is going to be a lot of pressure being put on the federal, and in turn, provincial governments to start working with you, our First Nation leaders to get safe water flowing into glasses in our communities.

It is my wish that you use this website to have your voice heard.

On this website, I will not name your community, unless the information I obtain is already in the public domain or you authorize your submissions to be made public. I will be unwavering in responsibly carrying what is shared with me, and on this website.

I invite you to tell your own story. I will post on this website any audio or film that you share with me about water in your territories. I want to hear from women, elders, leaders, youth, water workers… What are the water issues in your community? What water work is being done? What system is used in your community to notify community members that you are under a water advisory? Is it effective? If you are under a ‘do not consume’ advisory, where do you get your drinking water and water for daily use from? If you are supplied water, how much per day? How healthy are the fish and medicines along the waterbanks in your community? If you have a water treatment plant, are all the homes, schools, and businesses hooked up to it? Do you have the staff and resources to run it? What happens when there is a fire in your community?

I have heard that some community members disagree with the mission of the Empty Glass for Water campaign; could you explain how you think that it will harm your community? i.e. legislation without resources to implement changes; the fear of more ‘-ologists’ coming to study your community; privatization fears. Please lay it all out on the table.

Youth! What do you have to say about water? I’ve heard that some communities haven’t had water for over a decade? What do you think about that? Maybe that’s how old your little brother or sister is? Do you think about it? Do you want to make a film for your community? Do you have something to say? Do you think us adults are all talk and no action? How would you change things? Who do you think is responsible for the unsafe water that you are expected to live with; that you didn’t pollute? How much water do you use in a day? How much water do your peeps in the city use in a day? If you were able to mail a glass in to the Prime Minister of Canada, what would your letter say that you send with that glass? Why is water important? What do your elders say about the water? What have you been taught to do for the water? What would you like Canadians to know about water in your community? Why do you think you don’t have safe drinking water at your house? Make a plan, borrow a camera, ask a teacher or a talented auntie for help, and start filming. You have a voice. Your opinions matter. You are our future.

I have noticed at the annual general assemblies, because of time constraints, there is never enough time for our leaders to say what their communities have sent them to say. If you would like a public forum, I would be happy to post your thoughts and stories here in the ‘Now you know” section. Thomas King chooses similar words in his book, The Truth About Stories. Regarding listening to stories he says, “Take it. It’s yours. Do with it what you will. But don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.” These words make it clear that we have choices after we hear a story, a responsibility, we can chose to act… or not; and both have an impact. It’s my hope that after people hear your stories they will see that though we have a unique relationship with the federal government, it does not mean that we are better off for it. It is my hope that many more people across this country choose to act after hearing your stories. Without water we are not even on the same playing field as others in this country, and with your help, I wish to bring light to that fact.

So Chiefs, record audio or video or write a letter… I will give you a common space here to talk about what your unique needs are in your community with regards to water. When we learn what you need, our letters that we send in with our glasses will become more specific. The federal government and the provinces have purposely overcomplicated things. What does it all look like from your viewpoint, from your worldview?

Contact me if you are interested in sharing your story and need help getting started. This is your podium to speak about and for the water.

Gitchi miigwech, Angwaamazin

Joanne Robertson, Misko Anungo Kwe

10 Responses to “Ethics & an Invitation”

  1. Tim Smith says:

    Truly illuminating many thanks, I do believe your audience might want more writing along these lines carry on the excellent work.

  2. It wonderes me to see how many comments this website is getting. I guess it have plenty of enteries. how do you accomplish that kind of traffic?

  3. Keith says:

    great post.Never knew this, thankyou for letting me know.

  4. Great article. Very informative. Will be looking out for more from you from now on. Web Design

  5. Display says:

    Excellent article full of great content!

  6. Safe water is the least we can do, to be honest. I hope the government, and the public hears and sympathizes with your cause.

  7. Rev. Ted Thompson says:

    Joanne, I am a Christian minister (Presbyterian) in Uxbridge, Ontario. In my congregation, St. Andrew’s-Chalmers, we have adopted “Water and Food” as our focus for mission work and study. With this in mind I was exploring the World Water Day site and somehow came across a mention of a EG4W event taking place in Sault Ste. Marie. I would very much like to do an event in my own town.
    My only problem is that I would like to use the poster with a woman holding an empty glass (is that you?), however, it suggests leaving tobacco at the place of the ceremony. For this place and my congregation that would be confusing. I understand it is appropriate within the context of native spirituality. We might include the act of leaving tobacco at our local pond where I hope the ceremony can take place. My request is to be allowed to make an adjustment to the poster which calls for prayer and action and leave out the reference to tobacco.
    Thank you for your consideration. God bless your project.

  8. jrobertson says:

    Reverent Ted Thompson,
    Thank you for your question. Water is the responsibility of everyone for all life. Diversity is a beautiful thing. You may use the poster and adjust it to meet your own ceremonial ways. Miigwech for your thoughtful message and your work.

  9. It is very important information.
    Thank you very much

  10. This certainly is a noble cause. It is a same that in this day and age that safe water for people to drink is not readily available. I love the simple beauty of the symbolism that you have chosen for your campaign. I wish you the best of luck and success with this campaign.

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