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Protecting Water, Protecting Life

COMMENTARY


On International Water Day, we must remember that even today in Canada, there are communities where there is no access to safe clean drinking water.  What if this was your community? What would be the impact to you or to your family?


Water is necessary for human survival, but for Indigenous communities it holds spiritual and cultural significance. Water is not simply necessary for life; it is a living spirit, sacred to Indigenous peoples because it gives life and is used in many ceremonies.


The Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) recognizes the traditional and inherent roles of Indigenous women as water carriers and caretakers of their traditional lands and waterways. The voices of Indigenous women must inform and lead the conversations around climate change and environmental justice and its connection to gender-based violence.


As stewards of their lands and waterways, Indigenous women are at the forefront of action defending their territories from irreversible harm and have long recognized the urgency to maintain healthy relationships with Mother Earth.


The danger posed globally is widespread, with resource extraction playing a significant role in global climate change and gender-based violence. Where extractive industries operate, Indigenous women and girls experience higher rates of gender-based violence, including human trafficking, sexual violence, and intimate partner violence.


The right to safety for Indigenous women and girls who engage in water protection must be ensured at all levels of government, whether local, territorial, national, or international.

As Executive Director of the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA), Canada’s oldest and largest Indigenous women’s organization we are amplifying Indigenous women’s voices at the United Nations 2023 Water Conference in New York. Indigenous women and girls' knowledge and expertise is vast; they are uniquely positioned to speak on the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation on their communities, and on strategies for resistance and remediation.


Both state and non-state actors must acknowledge the historic and ongoing harms perpetrated against Indigenous women by both climate change and resource extraction initiatives as a necessary first step in working toward positive change and reconciliation with Indigenous communities.


Cross-cultural dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities as a part of climate justice work benefits all members of society, through building mutual understanding and responsibility with each other. By coming together, we can walk forward in a good way. We all have a responsibility to protect Mother Earth and our sacred water; in doing so we protect life.


Cora McGuire-Cyrette

ONWA Executive Director

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