“Water is life. Mní Wičóni." A simple and powerful statement from the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires), focuses our attention down to an essential need – clean freshwater. Yet we are not taking care of this precious gift we are entrusted with.
For peace and solace, imagine sitting on a wooden chair on the end of a slim wooden dock extending out into a shallow freshwater bay, surrounded by cattails and irises and willow-lined shores. Red-winged blackbirds call from their nests beside you, Canada geese create a cacophony of sound in the floating islands across from you. Painted turtles pop their heads out to breathe. Warblers sing in the forest behind you while beavers silently swim by and croaking frogs echo through the still evening light. Pickerel and jackfish can be hooked here. You can see yellow perch, shiners and bullheads swimming in the shallows.
Healthy freshwater is a provider, both for us and for nature.
The plants that we rely on for food need clean water, as do the plants we rely on for shelter. Our animals need water, and freshwater fisheries are a sustaining part of Indigenous peoples. We need clean drinking water for ourselves and use water to keep our households and cities clean and sanitary. We ourselves are mostly water.
The land we live on and care for is filled with freshwater. It is our responsibility to care for water. Yet we are seeing water being contaminated with chemicals from improper water treatment and industrial processes, lakes overloaded with nutrients which cause disturbing algal blooms and the wetlands that filter our water drained away.
In order to care for our water, we need to act in three distinct ways, putting regulations in place in all jurisdictions so our water health improves.
Put nature back in our watersheds. We need to ensure that wetlands are protected and that shorelines and riparian areas are left intact.
Runoff of sediment and nutrients from agricultural land needs to be eliminated. We need to ensure windrows and buffer strips on field edges reduce sedimentation and nutrient loss. We also need to mandate manure management plans so nutrients aren’t exported from cropland.
Protect fisheries. Healthy fish populations contribute to healthy water by cycling water and nutrients through aquatic ecosystems. Acting to ensure all fish populations remain healthy will improve the health of all of our waterways.
Freshwater rivers and lakes that are healthy enough so we can swim in, drink from, and fish in should be the goal right across the land. We’ve had water that healthy in the past, and our society must push to reach this goal again.
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