Respecting our Water
“As Indigenous Peoples, we recognize, honour and respect Water as a sacred and powerful gift from the Creator. Water, the first living spirit on this earth, gives life to all creation. Water, powerful and pristine, is the lifeblood that sustains life for all peoples, lands and creation. We know that by listening to the songs of the Water, all creation will continue to breathe. Our knowledge, laws and ways of life teach us to be responsible at all times in caring for this sacred gift that connects all life.” - Musqueam Territory Elder
Water is the most life-sustaining gift on Mother Earth and is the interconnection among all living beings. Water sustains us, flows between us, flows 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 but riparian doctrines have, in the past, maintained 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 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 people were here first. Water rights in Aboriginal conceptions 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 2: Respecting Water
Grade: K-2 (Science, Social Studies, Art)
Topic: Learning basic information about respecting water and issues around it
Time: 30 min/day over the course of two days
Space requirement: Classroom
Materials: Chart paper, markers, water, Smartboard or computer and projector, collection of magazines for collage, 8” x 11” white paper, glue, scissors, blue food colouring, vegetable oil, cocoa powder, cotton balls, plastic ocean animals, small rocks/stones, a sponge, a spoon, and paper towels.
Objectives: Students will be introduced to the First Nations’ worldview (including water pollution/protecting source water) on water and the importance of respecting and taking care of it.
Keywords: Conservation, Preservation, Water Use, Sacred, Pollution, Respect, Water is Life
The teacher and students discuss what “respect” means. (You think about others’ feelings before you act. You are nice. You share. You listen. You help people.)
Teacher will fill two containers with water. Have a jar of dirt beside one container. Ask students to tell you what is in the container and ask them what is going to happen when you put the dirt into the container. The teacher will then add dirt to one container only. Place both containers in front of the class and ask them a series of questions to stimulate thought.
Questions could include: Who can tell me what these are? Why is one dirty and one not? For what do you use clean water? Is dirty water harmful? How do First Nations people view water? Are First Nations people concerned about the water? How does water get dirty? Although they may not have the answers, the point is to get them to think about what is to come.
Next, if you are teaching kindergarten or grade 1 have the students watch a three-minute video that is a cartoon on the topic of water pollution/effects of human on water/why water should be respected. If you are teaching grade 2 students have them watch an eight-minute video about a young female water activist (Autumn Peltier) from Ontario.
Cartoon – Water Pollution https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93BqLewm3bA – Kindergarten/Grade 1 video
Autumn Peltier YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqdE_7OZaqE – Grade 2 video
Have a conversation about the content of the videos. Have students summarize as a group what the video showed.
(The cartoon showed a boy being afraid to go into the water, then a larger boy pushing him in. Then, it explained that water pollution is contamination of water sources and, due to human activities, our water is being increasingly polluted. Waste from industries is also put into the water and pollutes the water. If we drink this polluted water, we could get very sick. The pollution also harms fish. We need to not pollute the water. Sewage and industrial wastewater should be treated before it is put in source water.)
(The Autumn Peltier video showed how First Nations people perform a water ceremony to pray for it, that hopefully one day the water is clean. Autumn Peltier is one of Canada’s youngest water protectors; she is driven by the ceremony and tradition of her Elders, and maybe even by a calling. She is 13 and she has become a visible activist for safe drinking water and clean waterways for Indigenous Peoples. She said that learning that there are First Nations communities that can’t drink their water and it’s contaminated because of pollution and pipelines breaking really affected her. Her mother Stephanie has worked to make sure her daughters are raised with a deep sense of identity and Anishinaabe teachings. Her mom thinks that people listen to her in a different way. Autumn said that Mother Earth has been surviving for millions of years without us, and it’s taken less than a century to destroy her, and Mother Earth doesn’t need us, but we need her. She was nominated for the Children’s International Peace Prize in 2017. She is asked to speak in Canada and around the world and she had one overwhelming meeting with the Prime Minister – she said to him that she’s very unhappy with the choices he made and the broken promises to her people. The federal government has committed more money to end long-term boil water advisories across the country by 2021. She’s being bullied, likely because of jealousy. The bullying almost made her feel like quitting. She is going to speak to world leaders at the United Nations. She said that she’s going to keep doing the work for the rest of her life and hopes that there will be a change.)
Discuss conservation, preservation, the Sacredness of Water to First Nations People, water pollution, and the effects of water pollution with the students.
Attach three chart papers to the front of the class.
Write “Water is Life” at the top of the first chart paper, write “Pollution” at the top of the second chart paper, write “What can we do about it?” at the top of the third chart paper.
Brainstorm about each topic (“Water is Life”, “Pollution” and “What can we do about it?”) as a class. This will help the students gather ideas that will help them during their collage activity.
Hand out 8” x 11” paper, scissors, glue, and magazines to students. Instruct students to look at the chart papers on the board. Let them know these are ideas they should use when making their “Water is Life” collage. This collage will be about the good that they want to see their water world be. Prompt them to think about the good that can result from us taking action to conserve and preserve the water. If they want, they can choose to make a collage about pollution instead and find picture of things that cause pollution. The point here is to see whether students understand how to distinguish between protecting and polluting and to see whether they understand how to respect the water from a First Nations perspective.
Day 2 – Interactive Hands-on Activity
This will be a simple demonstration of how humans can have an effect on water resources by polluting the water. It also gives the students a strong visual of the effects of water pollution. During this activity, the teacher can use guided questions (For example, If the water disappeared would anything survive? Is it important to take care of the water? What would happen if this clean water became polluted? Etc.).
First, you will need a container that is large enough to hold 4L of water (you might want to use two or three containers if you have a large class). This can be anything that can hold water (garbage can, pail, etc.), but a clear container would be preferable. In addition, you will need to create “crude oil” by mixing about 30 mL of vegetable oil and a small amount of cocoa powder in a small, airtight container.
Put 4L of water in the container (or in each container if you are using more than one – repeat all of the steps with each container).
Put a couple of drops of blue food colouring in the water and mix the water with the spoon.
Ask the students to create their ocean habitat using the rocks and plastic animals.
Ask the students what will happen if you slowly drop in a little “crude oil” (vegetable oil and cocoa mixture) at a time. (For example, Will the drops stay together or will it all mix in with the water? Will it sink? Will it float on the surface of the water?) Put a little bit of the “crude oil” in the water, have students describe what they see. Put a little bit of the “crude oil” in the water several more times, continuing to have students state their observations.
Provide the students with the spoon, a sponge, cotton balls, and paper towels. Inform the students that the “crude oil” is actually just vegetable oil and cocoa powder and is, in fact, entirely safe. Discuss with them which item (spoon, sponge, cotton balls, and paper towels) or combination of items they think would be the best to use to clean up the “oil spill”. Have the students take turns, one at a time, trying to clean up the “oil spill” while the others state their observations.
Ask students what they think would happen if birds or other animals were in the water when there was an oil spill. Could the animals be cleaned up? (Dawn dish soap can be used to rescue animals, but obviously, it is best for the water and the animals to not be polluted!)
Evaluation: Can be based on their participation in the activity, their effort, their collage (creativity, etc.) and their ability to grasp the concept that water is life, respecting our water, and how polluting is not good for the water.
Assembly of First Nations. (2018). Honouring our Water. Retrieved from http://www.afn.ca/honoring-water/
CBC News: The National. (2018). The teen fighting to protect Canada's water — meet Autumn Peltier. Retrieved https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqdE_7OZaqE
How to Completely Change the Way Your Kids Think About Pollution. (n.d.). Retrieved from
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
Making Waves: Battle for the Great Lakes. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__walysaep0 Note: A dead bird can be seen from 0:59 until 1:01. This image may be disturbing for some young students who are sensitive or have experienced trauma.
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
Native Counselling Services of Alberta. Retrieved from https://www.sacredrelationship.ca
(To gain access to the website use Username: Alberta_Access and Password: s@cr3d)
P & G. (n.d.). Dawn Helps Save Wildlife. Retrieved from https://dawn-dish.com/en-us/dawn-saves-wildlife
The Great Lakes Water Walks. (2017). Why We Walk. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=148&v=Sv6BsFv5hWo
Water Pollution Experiments for Kids. (2017). Retrieved from https://jdaniel4smom.com/2017/01/water-pollution-experiments-kids.html
Water Pollution for Kids. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93BqLewm3bA