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OPSEU President ‘steps up’ for Indigenous members fighting water privatization

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“Water is life.”

That’s a key message for OPSEU’s Indigenous Mobilizing Team (IMT), which joined forces with George Brown College to host an all-day conference on protecting water as a public resource.

The “Water is Life” symposium at George Brown’s waterfront campus was held March 22 to mark the United Nations’ World Water Day. It featured Wisdom Keeper Pauline Shirt, George Brown College Aboriginal counsellors Lori Budge and Jolene May, Trent University facilitators Mary-Claire Buell and Kyla Judge, former Awkesasne Chief Brian David, internationally renowned activist Karl Flecker, two Indigenous midwives and midwifery activists from rural Guatemala, and OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

“What we do to water is what we do to ourselves,” said IMT member Crystal Sinclair. “We all share the responsibility of protecting our water because our water is our life.”

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The theme of water protection water ran like a river through the day of seminars, drumming, prayers, interactive workshops, and presentations.

“Indigenous communities across Ontario are in a water crisis,” said OPSEU President Thomas. “Over 100 communities are under a boil-water advisory right now, and this is nothing new. This has been a chronic problem for decades.

“The Indigenous participants at this symposium who represent communities across Ontario know exactly what needs to be done to protect us all,” he added. “OPSEU is stepping up as your partner to help this happen.”

Partnerships are crucial to success, said Karl Flecker.

“Corporations are becoming more and more skillful about turning our water into profit. They steal water from our aquifers, raise the price a thousandfold, and then sell it back to us,” he said. “We must resist.”

He said the United Nations is warning that within 10 years, overconsumption and contamination could leave the world with 60 per cent of what is needed to survive.

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But he also says that there is reason for hope, pointing to communities around the world – many of them Indigenous – that are working together to save their water.

“New Zealand has passed a law that recognizes one of its major rivers as a living entity. If you harm the river, it’s like you’re harming a person. On Monday, India passed a similar law protecting the Ganges,” said Flecker.  “Indigenous leadership is saving our water supplies.”

Before closing the event with a prayer, Wisdom Keeper Pauline Shirt said that protecting our water will take both solidarity and spirituality. “Remember that water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth,” she said. “We’ve heard many beautiful, healing words today. Together, we’ll honour our responsibility to protect our land, our water, and our cultures.”