Watersheds sustain us. Without these vital natural land areas catching the rainwater and snow that drains into our marshes, streams, rivers, and lakes our access to water in Manitoba would be severely diminished. Watersheds span across large pieces of land and can connect a vast network of waterways.
As Manitobans, we are inherently connected to watersheds both local and regional, and our actions have an impact on the environment beyond what we may intend. Manitoba is home to one of the world’s largest drainage basins called the Lake Winnipeg watershed (Canadian Geographic).
Using watershed as a lens to locate ourselves, changes our usual mapping of political boundaries that divide peoples and leads to ignoring damage that seems far away. It reconnects us to the ecological system which sustains us and whose health depends on the collective choices we make every day.
Recently, MCC Manitoba co-hosted a workshop with Kairos Cambrian-Agassiz on Reconciliation in our Watershed. The full day workshop had 15 participants and was led by Amelia Berot-Burns, the Kairos Ecological Justice Program Coordinator. Berot-Burns spoke about how participants can decolonize their relationship with water in order to move toward a right relationship with the environment.
Beginning the day with a blessing on the banks of the Red River, Ellen Cook of Misipawistik Cree Nation shared about her childhood experiences following the construction of the Hydro Station at Grand Rapids.
“[The Hydro Station] took away our playground [for tobogganing], our food and our way of life—killing plants we used to use. Sturgeon were the first fish that almost disappeared.”
Cook is co-chair of the Interchurch Council on Hydropower, a long-time MCC partner that works for fair treatment of people and lands affected by hydro-electric development in northern Manitoba.
David Scott from Swan Lake First Nation noted “Indigenous peoples don’t separate land from water, but that is exactly what many of Canada’s laws and policies do.”
MCC photo/Kerry Saner-Harvey
Drawing on knowledge from years of experience advocating for Indigenous water rights and political change, he reminded the group that access to water, both for clean drinking water and for livelihoods like fishing and trapping, is very important for Indigenous communities.
By the end of the workshop it became clear that more can be done to move toward a just and healthier watershed. Often the word watershed is used to refer to a “critical moment in time,” which is a good reminder to us that the time to act to address these concerns is now.
While there are no easy solutions to the complex and interconnected realities of Manitoban watersheds, there are tangible actions we can all take to achieve a right relationship with water:
- Learn ways to preserve the marshlands which act like the kidneys of the lake, keeping the ecosystem healthy.
- Connect with an Indigenous Water Protector or one of over 100 groups in Winnipeg working on Indigenous justice or environmental action, such as the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.
- Write to municipal officials requesting a retrofit for Winnipeg’s North End Water Pollution Control Centre. OR
- Write to your Senator to ensure Indigenous Rights related to water, land and consent are respected.
In Manitoba, MCC can walk alongside your church, community or school group to explore reconciliation in our watersheds.
Contact program coordinator Kerry Saner-Harvey at 204-925-1911 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.