Review our relationship with water by drawing inspiration from Aboriginal culture

Reviewing our relationship with water by drawing inspiration from indigenous culture


The ancestral knowledge of the First Nations considers water to be a sacred element. Beyond traditions, it is a special relationship that natives maintain daily with this omnipresent and indispensable, yet threatened element. 

Metro  spoke with Mélissa Mollen-Dupuis, Innu activist and head of the boreal campaign at the David Suzuki Foundation, to understand how non-native people can draw inspiration from the ancestral knowledge of the First Nations to reconsider their relationship to water too often perceived as an inexhaustible resource of economic value. 

Reviewing our relationship to water by drawing inspiration from indigenous culture

Innu activist Mélissa Mollen-Dupuis. Courtesy: Mélissa Mollen-Dupuis

Q:What is the relationship of First Nations with water? 

A: “What is surprising is that we have the same relationship with water as non-native people, that is to say an interdependence that we cannot deny. However, we have a very different vision of it, because it is the basis of our culture. We do not have a relationship with water that is economic, we have a sacred relationship with water. Often it is the responsibility of women to see the protection since we are considered the first to carry water, especially when we think of children and pregnancy. Women and water have a very clear relationship in our minds, but it doesn't go the same way for immigrants.

The relationship of the protection of water and women is something that is transmitted to us very young. If we just look at the path we make between my daughter, me, my grandmother and my great-grandmother through the umbilical cord, we can reconnect to the first water and the first grandmother who is Earth. It makes us guardians of the water.   

We are built with water and not seeing the importance of it is like collective suicide. It's so detached in people's minds that they don't see the connection because too many people think they can always buy a bottle of water when we know where the water is and how it is attacked on a daily basis, because we are in the territories to see it.”

Q: How does this relationship with water translate into daily life? 

A: “What is important to see is where the communities are located across the territory. We have an overview of the territory, because we are widespread, so each community becomes guardian of the place where it is. We will focus on rivers and lakes which have names. 

I have this responsibility, no matter where my feet are, to protect the territory that feeds me and gives me water. This attachment to the territory exists in the communities and on a daily basis, no matter which nation, it will tell you about the river next to which it lives or the sea where it fishes. You're really going to hear about it almost as if it were a cousin or an aunt, as a relationship, not just as a fridge that you open and take the resources from and then close the door. < /p>

I have an attachment to the Mingan River, I have an attachment to the river, because for me they are beings that bring life and my life at the same time.”

Q : How should non-natives review their view of water? 

A: “What helps a lot right now is this process of decolonization which I think affects everyone. We realize that this lack of valorization of indigenous knowledge has allowed the exploitation of territories, that is to say a dehumanization and a lowering of our knowledge. This knowledge has allowed for time immemorial to live in balance with the territory without having to colonize on the other side of the ocean, because the resources were balanced.  

Today, we are beginning to realize that in this knowledge, there are human solutions to climate change and the exploitation of territories. 

I feel there is an understanding and recognition of First Nations, but I feel people are caught up in their way of doing things. The world doesn't see things as having what you need, but as having what you want. water?

A: “First of all it takes undoing the biased view that people have of us and the “doctrine of Discovery”. We arrive with a knowledge that takes a transformation of the human and not of the territory. We say to ourselves: this is where we are changing our relationship and our way of doing things. Currently, we are promoting the resource binge where it is the one who eats the most who earns the most.

How we can do to live together is by returning to a reflection based on ancestral knowledge and how to maintain a balance with the territory. It's a difficult discussion, because we have to reverse a whole reflection of white supremacy on indigenous thoughts around the world.

In the Aboriginal vision, there is no end of the world, there is always a sequel. Currently, we see a lot of apocalypse films and viruses that end society as we know it. If you take the point of view of the first peoples, we have been in an apocalypse for 500 years and we are in a pandemic that has destroyed our civilizations, but do we stop for all that? No. We realize that we can still go back and continue while keeping the best we had. 

People don't understand that what feeds them is not magic, it's nature around us and the further we go, the more what feeds us makes us sick. Indigenous mobilization exists and will continue to exist, but we must see that solutions for all are offered. What we want to offer is that everyone can go through it and hope for their children and grandchildren.”

Q: In Quebec, how do the First Nations suffer the consequences of an unbalanced relationship with water?  

A: “Rivers are currently seen as electricity mills, which leads to a loss of biodiversity and accessibility to the territory. There is a loss that is irrevocable. You cannot build a forest the same way it has been built over the centuries. That was the purpose of the reservations and the boarding schools, because we were on the path between the resources and the exploitation of these resources. 

It has been said for several centuries that stop doing this when people were destroying the territory, but it was not listened to. Now that the loss of these resources is beginning to affect foreigners, we are beginning to notice it. When we hear about the construction of hydroelectric dams, it is not a real need, it is an electoral need. Personally, I don't see a surplus of electricity that could be sold, I especially see the disappearance of caribou and salmon rivers.”

Q: Do you have an example of protection inspired by ancestral knowledge? 

A: I am thinking of the Magpie River (or mutehekau shipu). By giving a personality to the river, we are using an indigenous way of seeing the world, but we are trying to get it through the Eurocentric legal system, which is very difficult. There we want to offer him the right to sink and the right to have life within him.”

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