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A love letter to the snow - and the spring - and you


Photo Credit: From We Are the Water Protectors written by Carol Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goode [1]



Tansi Nîtôtemtik, good morning everyone,


It's still cold in Treaty 6. [2] Tom Waits is crying hopefully that spring might come. [3] So why, why, why am I writing a love letter to snow?


Because snow makes spring. Literally. Snow melts down into the delicious mucky soil that feeds all the season’s green buds and springy sprigs. And snow makes cozy blankets that keep plants and animals tucked in all winter long with a little thermal layer until the sun returns. Like a down jacket for the whole northern hemisphere! Very cool!


Whether frozen or melted, water has this way of subtly shaping everything, really. Everyone, too. Consider your morning cuppa Coffee, tea, tap water, bottled water. [4] How could you get through your day without it?? And it stays with you, literally! It stays in you for ten days!! I can't put it better than Treaty 6 poet Matthew Weigel [5]:


Slow River

They say a drink of water

Stays in you ten days.

It must miss the river,

must thirst for the earth.

I am grateful

that I get to know myself

as reservoir;

as a lake in the shape of me,

as a slow river,

waiting at the bank

and bending back on myself,

longing for the sea.

I am the thirst of the ocean

drinking glaciers patiently.

Whether or not you are a poetry fan, it remains true that water shapes you. It is a way you connect to the world around you every day. It means you are made of the same stuff as everyone else. It is a part of you. Snow is a part of you, and even if you get a little grumpy at snow (or yourself) -- you are beautiful and amazing. You are water. Pretty nice, eh?


For this reason, I think water is worth loving. Just like you are worth loving.

That's why this week, we are writing about water as a foundation for health and law. So what does the law have to say about love and water? Well, it depends who you ask.


Love letters and legal orders

Love really does have a lot to do with law. [6] Just like you can't function without water, your brain can't function without a heart. All the thinking parts of law, all the logics of law, rely implicitly on the work of the heart.


While that might seem like a given, colonial legal orders have historically denied this and largely continue to do so. Instead, they draw on Aristotle and other scholars to imagine ideal legal work as "reason free from passion." [7]


From this perspective, the heart and brain are opposite: at war. The no-good heart pulls the very-good-brain into chaos. (And yes, this "either-or" is directly connected to many other harmful binaries that are being challenged, such as females being the opposite of males where males are seen as good, objective, and rational and females are seen as inferior, bad, unreasonable, too emotional and so on). [8] Gender and law is a whole other blog, so for now I'll just note this: in this "reason free from passion" worldview, contrasts tend to raise up one ideal and diminish the other side - they judge and condemn the other, in the worst possible way. [9]


So if humanity is "cursed" with hearts, [10] and the same reasoning says that men are above women and nature, where does that leave the reality of the rivers that course through us every day?


What about the snow that melts into spring? The head that very definitely depends on the heart? Why I wonder, would we put so much energy into fighting this truth about ourselves: that the heart and the mind are both necessary? That water is necessarily a part of us?


What if more laws recognized that "I am the River and the River is me"?

This phrase is at the centre of a renewed legal order that gives legal rights to the Whanganui River in Aotearoa (New Zealand). [11] It is also one way to consider a Plains Cree term for water, "Nipiy." "..."Ni" derives from the term "Niyah," which means "I Am," and "Piy" derives from the term "Pimatisowin" which means "The Life" [...so Nipiy] reads as "I Am The Life"." [12]

Aseniwuche Winewak Nation has generously shared a language bundle that begins to explain a little bit about how pimatisiwin puts the relationships between water, life, and humans at the centre of legal relations. [13] For those of you in Treaty 6, Reuben Quinn brings this home with a little video about the kisiskâciwanisîpiy (the North Saskatchewan River). [14] While this is just the tip of the iceberg, I think it is safe to say that many Indigenous legal orders see feeling, beauty and our connections to water and other life as essential to effective legal work. [15]


From this perspective, water is worth loving, as all beings are worth loving. The heart and the mind complement rather than fight each other. Neither is diminished. While no legal or human system is perfect, this seems like a valuable perspective to consider more deeply as we look to the future of our legal systems here in Canada.


(And on a surprising fun note, I think Legally Blonde's Elle Woods agrees. [16])


With love

So for this Valentine's Day (or "singles awareness day" if you prefer), let me just say: I love the water that flows through us all. I love the snow that brings us spring. And even if we haven't met, we rely on the same water and the same coffee - and I love you, too.


With love, we can refresh our legal systems with a long drink of water and make a little more room for the heart.


Kinanâskomitin, thank you for reading this love letter and take care,

Hero and the ReconciliACTION team






[1] From "We Are the Water Protectors written by Carol Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goode" (April 30, 2020) books4yourkids online <https://www.books4yourkids.com/2020/04/we-are-water-protectors-written-by.html>.

[2] Hero Laird, "Meet Team ReconciliACTION YEG 21/22: Hero Laird" (January 10, 2022) online: ReconciliACTION YEG, <https://reconciliactionyeg.wixsite.com/website/post/meet-team-reconciliaction-yeg-21-22-hero-laird>.

[3] Levy, "Tom Waits - You Can Never Hold Back Spring" (undated) online: YouTube, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgeZEdbv_m8>.

[4] Kerry Black, "Tip of the iceberg: The true state of drinking water advisories in First Nations" (May 7, 2021) online: UCalgary News, <https://ucalgary.ca/news/tip-iceberg-true-state-drinking-water-advisories-first-nations>.

[5] Matthew James Weigel, “slow river” (2020). Poem published on a Kind ice cream tub, April 2021.

[6] Hero Laird, "What's love got to do with it" (February 4, 2022) online: ReconciliACTION YEG, <https://reconciliactionyeg.wixsite.com/website/post/what-s-love-got-to-do-with-it>.

[7] See for e.g. Carrie Russell, "Introduction to American Law (Maymester 2015 Syllabus)" (undated) online: Vanderbilt University <https://www.vanderbilt.edu/summer/maysession/PSCI3260AmericanLawsyllabus.pdf>. [8] Lynne Henderson, "The Dialogue of the Heart and Head" 1988 (Las Vegas: University of Nevada, William S. Boyd School of Law) online:

<https://scholars.law.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1892&context=facpub> [Henderson]

[9] Ibid. (same reference as the last one). See also Dorothy E. Chunn and Dany Lacombe (Eds), Law as a Gendering Practice (Oxford University Press, 2000) and the work of Emily Snyder in general.

[10] Henderson, supra (above) note 8.

[11] Dan Cheater, “I am the River, and the River is me: Legal Personhood and emerging Rights of Nature” (2018) West Coast Environmental Law, online: <https://www.wcel.org/blog/i-am-river-and-river-me-legal-personhood-and-emerging-rights-nature>.

[12] Danika Littlechild “Transformation and Reformation: First Nations and Water in Canada” (2014) University of Victoria at 12 [Littlechild].

[13] Johanne Johnson, ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ ᐱᒪᑎᓯᐃᐧᐣ nehiyaw pimatisiwin Language Bundle (2021), online: Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge <https://www.ualberta.ca/wahkohtowin/media-library/data-lists-pdfs/nehiyaw-pimatisiwin-bundle.pdf>.

[14] Conor McNally, “nipiy ”(2020), online: Vimeo <https://vimeo.com/471590000>

[15] Ibid. See also Littlechild, supra note 12; Tuma Young, "L'nuwita'simk: A Foundational Worldview for a L'nuwey Justice System" (2016) 13 Indigenous LJ75; Heiltsuk Nation, “Decision of the Heiltsuk Committee Regarding the Oct. 13th, 2016 Nathan E. Stewart Spill”; and Darcy Lindberg, “Miyo Nêhiyâwiwin (Beautiful Creeness) Ceremonial Aesthetics and Nêhiyaw Legal Pedagogy'' (2018) 16/17 Indigenous Law Journal 51.

[16] For a clip of the Legally Blond take on this, see American Rhetoric Movie Speech (undated), online: American Rhetoric Movie Speeches <https://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechlegallyblonde.html#:~:text=Ms.,law%20%2D%2D%20and%20of%20life.>.


And thanks to Janine Nanimahoo for drawing my attention to "singles awareness day" this year :)


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