Respecting Our Water
“In order to respect the water we have to respect the land. The land is a natural filtration system for our water. We don’t take care of the land, the water becomes sick.” - Unknown
Water is the most life-sustaining gift on Mother Earth and it is the interconnection among all living beings. Water sustains us, flows between us, within us, and replenishes us. Water is the blood of Mother Earth and, as such, cleanses not only herself, but all living things. (AFN, 2018) Settler society and Aboriginal conceptions of water rights differ in many respects. At common law, water could not be owned. However, riparian doctrines have, in the past, discarded this practice through the appropriation of Indigenous lands. (Murphy, 2015) Aboriginal conceptions of water usually deem waters to be sacred givers of life. Water must be shared respectfully, without any use being paramount. The use of water for sacred purposes, hunting and fishing, transportation, recreation and domestic consumption is a shared responsibility, and must address current needs, the needs of the land, and the needs of future generations. The use of waters is governed by a natural law, by which the taking of waters without due regard to the environment and the needs of current and future generations can only lead to disaster. Aboriginal peoples see themselves as caretakers with responsibilities to preserve water and life. (Laidlaw, 2010)
Aboriginal Rights/Responsibilities to Water: Do they Still Exist?
Aboriginal peoples were here first. Aboriginal water rights flow from their use and occupation of their traditional lands from time immemorial. Waters were not separable from the land and the rights to water have long been asserted by Aboriginal peoples as part of their rights to live on their lands. The difficulty faced by Aboriginal peoples in seeking recognition of their water rights is that there has never been a court ruling in Canada that has unequivocally established or denied Aboriginal rights to water. (Laidlaw, 2010) The Supreme Court of Canada has described Aboriginal title as a right in “land” that gives Aboriginal peoples the right to exclusive use, occupation and possession of the land for a broad range of purposes. In the seminal case of Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, 13 Chief Justice Lamer for the majority described common law Aboriginal title as follows: “(…) the content of aboriginal title can be summarized by two propositions: first, that aboriginal title encompasses the right to exclusive use and occupation of the land held pursuant to that title for a variety of purposes, which need not be aspects of those aboriginal practices, customs and traditions which are integral to distinctive aboriginal cultures; and second, that those protected uses must not be irreconcilable with the nature of the group’s attachment to that land.” (Laidlaw, 2010)
Lesson 1: Water Is Life – Respecting the Water (Elders’ perspective)
Subjects: Science, Social Studies, English Language Arts
Topic: Understanding the protocol for Elder visits with teachings about respecting the water.
Time: 60-70 minutes (can shorten for grade three)
Space requirement: Classroom
Materials: Elder (you will need to ask him or her to visit your classroom ahead of time, and remember to follow the protocol in terms of inviting an Elder to speak in your classroom), smartboard, pencils, paper, copies of exit slips.
Objectives: Students will be exposed to the protocol for approaching an Elder while learning the importance of respecting the water and land.
Keywords: protocol, respect, Elder
Hook: Word Scramble. This is a quick strategy to get students enthused about the lesson. This will create dialogue with the students about the lesson as they uncover the word and background knowledge as they go through the lesson. Spend only 10 minutes on this, as you will need time for the Elder to speak. How this works is you can use a smartboard/chalkboard/chart paper to write the words “Respect” and “Elder” with their letters scrambled.
Ex: edlEr/pseRcet (You can give a hint that the capital is the first letter or second letter to start the game, depending on grade level.)
Students can work in teams or individually, they only get one guess per team/per player. Ensure there is a clock visible as this will be key to staying on track and not going over time. When the time is up, if no team or player has unscrambled the word then unscramble it for them. Go over the definitions of these two words.
Respect: Showing others that they are valued. It also means valuing yourself. (The Elder can discuss this during the talk.)
Elder: A person who helps others by using the experience/knowledge that he/she may have. They give guidance and advice to others who are in need and hold knowledge to the language and ceremonies. They are respected individuals of a community and possess the knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation.
During: The Elder will speak about the following topics (pick and choose as one or two of these topics may take the whole class):
a) What is respect?
b) What is protocol?
c) How do you follow protocol when communicating with an Elder?
d) Why is water important to First Nations people?
- You can be more specific with regards to Neyiahwak (Cree) or Nakawe (Saulteaux), or the Elder’s territory.
e) Is there a ceremony that involves water? (The Elder will not address what happens in that ceremony, he or she will only give the general description.)
f) Why is land important to water (the trees, plants, and animals)? If you don’t treat the land well, what happens to the water?
The teacher can look over these topics prior to engaging the Elder and choose one or two for the Elder to address.
After: Exit slips (assessment). This will be one thing that they learned today and one question that they have about what they learned today. The teacher can model an example for students who are unfamiliar with exit slips.
One thing I learned today was that respecting water means taking care of the land and watching how we treat the water.
One question I have about what I learned today is how First Nations people knew how to treat the water
Alternately: Can have writing prompts put in the board (this will be gauged by the teacher as they pick topics) so students can compose and create a summary/informative/opinionated piece of writing based on the Elder’s topic(s).
Evaluation: The completed exit slips or the piece of writing.
For the Teacher: Background information was included in this lesson plan to enable you to become more familiar with the topic. Resources are provided to help you to deepen your knowledge. Questions/topics for the Elder are provided.
Also provided is a username and access code to online resources (including videos).
Assembly of First Nations. (2018). Honouring our Water. Retrieved from http://www.afn.ca/honoring-water/
Laidlaw, D. Passelac-Ross, M. (2010). Water Rights and Water Stewardship: What about Aboriginal People? Canadian Institute of Resources Law. Retrieved from https://dspace.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/handle/1880/47784/Resources107.pdf;jsessionid=1EF4091A8E446611E3B05FE03C16C2E0?sequence=1
Murphy, H. Corston, E. Yvonne, G. Mcbean, E. 2015. The International Indigenous Policy Journal: Insights and Opportunities: Challenges of Canadian First Nations Drinking Water Operators. Retrieved from https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1235&context=iipj
The Great Lakes Water Walks. 2017. Why We Walk. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=148&v=Sv6BsFv5hWo
MakingWaveDoc. (2016). Making Waves: Battle for the Great Lakes. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__walysaep0 (explores effects of humans on water)
The H Factor
Len Benson is a traditional Cree man who grew up on the land near Lac La Biche, Alberta. He has seen changes to the water, plants and animals as industrial development has increased. Len wonders if human beings really understand the impact we have on mother Earth.
To gain access to the website: Username: Alberta_Access Password: s@cr3d
Free Water Experiments for Kids
Creating water pollution
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