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Violence Begets Violence: Women & Water

“We are water – we come from water and when the water is sick – we are sick.”

– Autumn Peltier, Indigenous Advocate, United Nations, 2019[1]


Tansi Nitometik,


Today we are leaning into the words of young advocate and Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation, Autumn Peltier. This short quote by the powerful youth is a reminder of what water means, not just to Indigenous peoples, but to all peoples in Canada. And beyond. While we may talk about ownership of water, water does not allow arbitrary lines to stop its flow.


Water remains. We remain.


And in that simple notion exists scientific data, government reports, and rallying cries of communities where the threat to water, and us exists.[2]


So, what came first...the chicken or the egg? Or in this case, is the bigger threat the water becoming sick, and making us sick? Or is it our sickness contaminating the water? Maybe they exist alongside one another.


What we do know is that women, in particular Indigenous women, have a special relationship to water. As Elder Shirley Williams from the Kawartha region of Ontario, and organizer of the Nibi Emosaawdamajig (Those Who Walk for the Water) annual event, shared, “in [Anishinabek] ceremonies it is the woman who will bless the water, because women are the carriers of the water. We carry babies in our wombs and it's the water that comes out first.”[3]

Water is what holds babies in the first moments of their life, and it is water that holds our life through our physical journey in this world.

It is then no surprise that strong Indigenous women have been at the forefront of water advocacy & activism. Leader Josephine Mandamin shared that she asked herself in relation to this relationship between Indigenous women and water, “what can we do to bring out, to tell people of our responsibilities as women, as keepers of life and the water, to respect our bodies as Nishnaabe-kwewag, as women?”[4]

One of the answers was the water-walk. It is the matriarchs who responded by “carry[ing] the copper pail throughout their travels […] clothed in ribbon skirts.”[5] It is the women who make the journey, advocating for the protection of water, amidst ongoing environmental and social concerns.


While the environmental impact on water through resource extraction is one that we are having country-wide, the uncomfortable conversation of what resource extraction does to people is being had as well.


Indigenous Climate Actions panel “Violence Against the Land is Violence Against Women” is a powerful conversation about “how violence against the land through the extraction and exploitation of resources and fossil fuels perpetuates violence against women.”[6] It expands upon the findings of Amnesty International’s “Out of Sight, Out of Mind Report” that found resource extraction puts women in the vicinity at risk.[7]


It asks us, as Canadians, to think about how our relationship to the land, and the violence we perpetrate against it, relates to our relationships with one another.


It asks us to consider how violence against women is connected to violence against ecosystems. Against other living beings. Against water. To thoughtfully consider how “when people lose respect for the land, they lose respect for the people.”[8]


Because if the relationship between Indigenous women and water is one that we recognize as special, then maybe it’s time for us to start asking if the threats to our water coincide with the threats to Indigenous women.


Maybe it’s time we look not at the system to discover why “Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than their non-Indigenous sisters” but instead go back to the land.[9]


And if we’re having those difficult conversations, maybe it’s time to look to the women, the matriarchs, the ones walking with the copper pots, and ask, “what came first? And how do we do better?”


Until next time,


Casey & the ReconciliACTION YEG Team


[1] Marci Becking, “Autumn Peltier going to the United Nations to share her message about water” (23 Sep 2019), online: Anishinabek News <.https://anishinabeknews.ca/2019/09/23/autumn-peltier-going-to-the-united-nations-to-share-her-message-about-water/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CNothing%20can%20live%20without%20water,Then%20what%20will%20you%20do%3F%E2%80%9D>.

[2] Jenalee Kluttz, Jude Walker, Pierre Walter, “Learning towards Decolonising Relationships at Standing Rock,” Studies in the Education of Adults 53 (1): 101–19. <https://search-ebscohost-com.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1294765&site=eds-live&scope=site>.; Office of the Auditor General, Report 3—Access to Safe Drinking Water in First Nations Communities—Indigenous Services Canada (Ottawa: Indigenous Services Canada, 2020) at <https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/att__e_43754.html>.

[3] Rhiannon Johnson, “'It's really very crucial right now': Great Lakes Water Walk focuses on protecting 'lifeblood'” (23 Sep 2017), online: CBC <https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/great-lake-water-walk-meant-to-spread-awareness-open-to-all-1.4303050>.

[4] Jeff Corntassel, “Re-envisioning resurgence: Indigenous pathways to decolonization and sustainable self-determination.” (2012); Bédard, R. (2008). Keepers of the water: Nishnaabe-kwewag speaking for the water. In L. Simpson (Ed.), Lighting the eighth fire (pp. 89-109). Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 103.

[5] Jessica Munro, “Indigenous group protests lack of clean water by walking from Kingston to Parliament Hill'” (02 Aug 2021), online: Ottawa Sun <https://ottawasun.com/news/indigenous-group-walks-from-kingston-to-parliament-hill-to-protest-lack-of-clean-water/wcm/ab977c92-7e56-4d2f-9e7c-b1f59389ec1e>.

[6] “Violence Against the Land is Violence Against Women'” (19 Mar 2021), online: Indigenous Climate Action <.https://www.indigenousclimateaction.com/entries/violence-against-the-land-is-violence-against-women>.

[7] “Out of Sight, Out of Mind Report” (2022), online: Amnesty International <https://www.amnesty.ca/what-we-do/no-more-stolen-sisters/out-of-sight-out-of-mind-report/>.

[8] Lindsay Bacigal, “What is Gender-Based Environmental Violence?'” (28 Dec 2020), online: Briarpatch <https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/what-is-gender-based-environmental-violence>.

[9] 2021 National Action Plan" (3 Jun 2021), online: MMIWG2S Plus: National Action Plan<. https://mmiwg2splus-nationalactionplan.ca/>.


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