I spent the last week of August secluded away at a cottage on Fairy Lake. Touted as one of the jewels of the Muskoka region of Ontario, Fairy Lake is also the gateway to Algonquin Park. But, I did absolutely no exploring of the lake -- content to sit in a Muskoka chair mesmerized by the water as it transitioned through its day, evening and into its night.
Calm in the early morning churned into action by rainfall or the odd passing motor boat, a natural mirror for the glorious setting sun, and virtually indistinguishable from the dark sky once night fell, Fairy Lake was very much alive and exuding restorative energy. Yet, far too often, we take water for granted and waste or misuse it.
On Sunday, September 10 I was privileged to be invited to a Water Blessing. Organized by the Unitarian Congregation of Guelph (UCG), Ontario and facilitated by Arlene Slocombe, executive director of the Wellington Water Watchers (WWW), the hour long celebration had me seeing water in an entirely new light.
Paul, a member of the congregation, provided the Territorial Acknowledgement that opened the ceremony; "We acknowledge we are on the treaty lands of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation of the Anishinaabe peoples. During our region's rich Indigenous history, these lands have been home to the Chonnonton peoples, the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabe and the Métis. We express gratitude for the sharing of these lands. We also acknowledge the tragic history between first peoples and newcomers. We strive to be accountable by acknowledging this history and cultivating respect in our relationships with Indigenous peoples and the land."
Two dozen people comprised our spiritual circle. We were an eclectic group of five children and two young adults with the remainder made up of middle aged and older adults. Women and girls out-numbered men and boys six to one.
Perhaps this is how it should be because traditional First Nation teachings maintain women have a sacred connection to water or nibi. In many developing countries women and girls are responsible for collecting and carrying water from a central well or spring often travelling miles before reaching home. This inter-connectedness with water is something that we in the western settler culture take for granted and in some cases have completely forgotten. Water ceremonies help us reconnect to our history and responsibilities.
Slocombe told us of her intimate relationship with life giving water, "I come from the waters of Justina Dales (my mother), who comes from the waters of Grace O'Mailey (my grandmother), who comes from the waters of Margaret Moir (my great grandmother), who comes from a long line of mothers birthing children from their waters stretching back to the beginning of time."
"I have 2 daughters who have come from my waters and perhaps one day they will birth forth others from their waters in a long line into the future. I place myself on that continuum of women who carry waters of creation. My role here is as caretaker of these waters, and the waters we witness in our rivers, lakes and wetlands and the rain from the skies and the reserves in aquifers deep below the grounds are inextricably linked with the waters we ourselves carry. My health and theirs are intertwined. When I pray for the health of our rivers, I also pray for all of our health."
Slocombe shared with us her daily practice of extending gratitude to the river that passes close to her home. She often includes her daughters in these rituals so they too learn to acknowledge all life comes from water.
Then, it was time for each of us to share a brief story from our memories about water and the importance or special meaning that water conveyed. That's when Paul reminded us not everyone has access to water in its liquid form.
"Years ago, I had the pleasure of working in what is now Nunavut (Baffin and Ellesmere Islands, Resolute Bay), sharing that work with several Inuit people on wildlife surveys, in winter, spring, summer and fall," Paul told us.
"Ice is the defining form of water in the arctic. Ecosystems and Inuit culture and livelihoods depend on frozen oceans. Seals, walrus, whales and fish form the majority of the diet in the arctic islands. The Arctic cod and their food, amphipods and other invertebrates, drive the food chain of the under-ice ecosystem. The Ringed Seal, a staple in the Inuit diet, lives under the frozen ice all winter breathing through small holes it maintains. Hunting depends on travel across sea ice most of the year. Hunting from boats is a fairly short lived activity. Ice and snow are fundamental facts of life in ways southerners cannot imagine."
Each of us was then invited to pour water we had brought with us into a communal vessel. These waters held special meaning for each of us. My contribution came from my backyard pond home to countless small rocks and pebbles I've brought home from the various bodies of water I visit each summer. This summer's collection was sourced from Fairy Lake.
My pond is a teaming with life. Bulrushes have crowded out other plants and provide camouflage for the raccoon, possum, skunk, birds and immeasurable crawling and flying insects that drink from it. This life giving water imbued with the energy from a variety of lakes and rivers that have washed over these rocks and pebbles was my way of adding vital energy to our communal offering.
Once the waters had time to mingle they were gently released into the Eramosa River to share their energies as they undertook a new journey.
According to Melissa Horvath-Lucid, "Many within our community are involved in water protection and conservation activism. They spoke up against the plans and actions of Nestlé and the mega quarry that was proposed near Unicamp, which was successfully defeated. Our principles call us to action and to a deeper and intimate understanding of the interconnectedness of all things growing awareness and gratitude for the responsibility we have to care for this shared life giving element. Our relationship with water is one that must be explored, nurtured and invested in."
The WWW, a non-profit organization primarily run by volunteer citizens from Guelph-Wellington, are committed to protecting local water and educating the public about threats to watersheds throughout Ontario.
"October 16 marks one year since the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change announced the decision that put Nestlé's application for a Middlebrook well on hold. The moratorium was welcome as a step in the right direction," said Mike Nagy, chairperson of WWW.
He cautions, "The decision to impose a moratorium is only a temporary measure and is not a commitment to protecting our ground water for the long-term. In January 2019 the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change could decide to renew Nestlé’s applications in Aberfolye and Hillsburgh and approve Nestlé's application for the Middlebrook well. We must convince Premier Kathleen Wynne before the next provincial election in June 2018, to 'Say No To Nestlé' and announce a phase out of permits to bottle water in Ontario."
WWW support water as a basic human right and are fighting for clean water for everyone in the world through their efforts to:
- Phase out the bottled water industry in Ontario within ten years
- Respect the duty to consult Indigenous communities
- Safeguard public ownership and control of water including prohibiting private/public partnerships known as P3's
- Ensure public access to water by requiring public facilities to make drinking water available via drinking fountains
A version of this article first appeared in NOW Magazine on September 28, 2017.
Image: Facebook/Wellington Wate Watchers
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