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The Top 15 Indigenous Water Stories of 2018

The water connects us all. As we look back on 2018 and the Indigenous water stories and knowledge that flooded our minds key themes emerge as well as questions for what we might face in 2019 as Indigenous Peoples and nations rising to protect the water. The following is a list of the world’s top fifteen Indigenous water stories you engaged with through our twitter account in 2018, as well as others that raise our collective consciousness for the water – in all its forms. Water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth and these stories represent the sometimes difficult but also triumphant journey she faces and the relatives who over the past year came to her defense.

1. Pipelines

Photo Credit: Zack Embree. Thousands gather in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, for Indigenous-led "Protect the Inlet" mass mobilization against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline.

Like a game of whack-a-mole, Indigenous People are fighting pipeline after pipeline. In 2018 one of the most significant victories for Indigenous Peoples trying to block the Canadian Trans Mountain pipeline occurred when the Federal Court of Appeal found that the Canadian government fell short of meeting its consultation obligations. The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would threaten drinking water supplies of many First Nations. The hope was that the ruling would force Canada to reevaluate the way it adheres to Indigenous rights, but recent consultation hearings have shown that it may be colonial business as usual. Water protectors have mobilized in the Great Lakes region to fight against Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 and Line 5. Indigenous Nations in the region are concerned that the pipelines will destroy watersheds throughout the basin, including vital manomin (wild rice) habits. This year Indigenous People in Louisiana were also fighting to block the Bayou Bridge pipeline, another pipeline project of Energy Transfer Partners (the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline). Fortunately for Tribes in Virginia and North Carolina the Atlantic Coast pipeline permit was suspended in November 2018 when the court ruled the proposed pipeline path would potentially harm endangered and threatened species. Tribes in North Carolina have largely been left out of the permitting process and believe the pipeline is an extreme threat to the water. Indigenous resistance to pipelines is boiling over as nations learn from each other’s struggles, as they did with Standing Rock and the Dakota Access pipeline and with the Keystone XL pipeline. The whack-a-mole metaphor was especially pertinent in 2017 when President Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum authorizing the construction of the previously denied Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline. Thankfully good news arrived in November 2018 when a U.S. federal court blocked any further development of the Keystone XL Pipeline by Canadian company TransCanada. As each new attempt for pipeline proliferation and expansion occurs what is unwavering is Indigenous resistance and resilience for water protection.

2. Mining

Image designed by Dylan Miner. Circular text on the edge drawn by Nicolas Lampert. Guy Reiter from the Menominee Tribe guided us on the text and suggestions for the bear and the sturgeon fish imagery.)

2018 began with Menominee Tribe suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers for failure to review permits for the Back Forty Mine, an open-pit sulfide mine along the Menominee River proposed by Canadian mining company Aquila Resources. The Back Forty Mine threatens the origin of life for Menominee People – the Menominee River. It is sacred and integral to their cultural, spiritual and political existence. The mine would occupy and violate 1836 treaty territory where there are burial grounds, sacred sites, and sites of cultural importance. Unfortunately, the Tribe’s attempts to use the Clean Water Act and the National Historic Preservation Act in its claims to defend the water were dismissed by a judge in December ruling in favor of the Canadian mining company in violation of Indigenous rights. The Menominee will continue to fight to protect the river – water is life. And they were not alone in 2018, echoing this ancestral teaching were Indigenous nations around the world fighting against mining projects that would harm the water. ​​

The Animas River between Silverton and Durango in Colorado, USA, within 24 hours of the 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill.

However, there were also ​​amazing victory stories in 2018. In February, the Navajo Nation’s fair compensation lawsuit against contractor Environmental Restoration, LLC for the damage caused by the Gold King Mine Spill was allowed to proceed, including their demand for punitive damages. In 2015, 3 million gallons of Gold King Mine wastewater laced with toxic metals dumped into the Animas and San Juan rivers resulting in devastating consequences for the Navajo Nation and Southern Ute Indian Tribe, as well as neighboring states. Many Indigenous victims of the spill are still waiting on compensation for their losses, and the site is listed as a Superfund site with contamination clean-up estimated to take a decade and ecosystem recovery indeterminate. Additional lawsuits are pending in federal court in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dr. Karletta Chief (Navajo), a hydrologist, is helping communities recover from the spill and using Indigenous science to cultivate a new generation of scientists who can shape future water protection. This year the U.S. Supreme Court also upheld a uranium mining ban in the Grand Canyon protecting the water, sacred sites, and territories for several Tribes especially the Hualapai and Havasupai. In Australia, Indigenous Nations are fighting against the Adani company Carmichael Mine, a massive coal and rail project in Queensland that threatens the waters of the Wangan and Jagalingou people. The project threatens a sacred site of ancestral origin, the Doongmabulla Springs. The practices of Adani Mining are violating Indigenous rights, and their occupation of Indigenous territories is without the free, prior, and informed consent of the Wangan and Jagalingou. The United Nations has been petitioned to intervene and condemn the mining project. In 2018 we were awakened to the insatiable global thirst for the minerals beneath Mother Earth that is threatening the water.

3. Bulk Water Extraction

Six Nations youth protest to put a stop to Nestle.

Bulk water extraction was a major concern for Indigenous Peoples in 2018. One of the biggest culprits violating Indigenous rights for water extraction was water bottling company Nestlé. In April, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved a controversial permit for Nestlé Waters North America to extract more groundwater from the Great Lakes region despite over 80,000 public comments submitted against the permit approval. Many are concerned that there is not enough political will to stop the bulk water extractions threatening the Great Lakes. In South America, the Guarani Aquifer was also threatened in 2018 by a movement for privatization that would benefit the lucrative water industries of multi-national companies such as Nestlé and Coca-Cola. This year the Winnemem Wintu Tribe spoke out in opposition to attempts by Nestlé to bottle Shasta water. In Canada, Six Nations of the Grand River denied requests by Nestlé to draw water for its bottled water operations from Six Nations traditional territory. ​​In November, Six Nations youth marched for the protection of the aquifer, which they claim Nestlé has been stealing water from as they extract without Six Nations consent. The groundwater extraction activities of Nestlé on traditional Six Nations territory are especially disturbing given the lack of access to safe drinking water on the Six Nations reserve. Many Six Nations families have to buy bottled water to meet their household needs, even though the water filling the bottles is being extracted from their ancestral territories and resold to them at an exponential cost. Similarly, in March, K’ómoks First Nation came out in opposition to a bottling water request in their community. In April Maori youth leaders visited the United Nations and spoke out against Chinese water bottling company, Nongfu Spring, who want to extract hundreds of millions of liters of water from traditional Indigenous territories. This year showed us that the water wars are not something of the future; they are a current and present reality for Indigenous Peoples around the world. We are stronger together and our purchasing power as Indigenous Peoples is also commanding. This is the core reasoning behind a call to action issued by the Lakota People’s Law Project to boycott Nestlé and stand against ecocide.

4. Indigenous Declarations

Indigenous declarations for the protection of water and land have been increasing in recent years. In 2018, Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows First Nation) declared its territory to be an “Indigenous Sovereignty and Protected Area”. The “Grassy Narrows Land Declaration” bans all industrial logging in Grassy Narrows’ Territory and asserts the Nation has jurisdiction and sovereignty over their lands. The Grassy Narrows Land Declaration was an essential assertion of First Nation sovereignty in response to ongoing water contamination and mercury poisoning of the region’s Indigenous Peoples. However, the Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek did not issue the only Indigenous Declaration this year. Indigenous Peoples at the 8th World Water Forum in Brazil declared that all rivers should be able to run free recognizing that hydrocolonialism around the world through dam proliferation are violating Indigenous Peoples’ rights. ​