Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Respecting Water

By JoAnne Cook

Indigenous Peoples’ Day (October 14 this year) has become a day of recognition to the Anishinaabek and has replaced Columbus Day in some communities. This recognition comes because we are the first people of this earth.

Although many believe Columbus discovered this land, there were many visitors to this land before him. After his arrival, life changed for the Anishinaabek. Even so, the first people were able to hold onto language, culture, and tradition. This is attributed to the seven generations before and to the resiliency and strength of the Anishinaabek.

Anishinaabek had thrived and lived our way of life for thousands of years. Many generations carried on this way of life and the stories that accompanied the teachings. One of those is respect. It comes in many forms and is expressed by everyone. You see it expressed through actions, words, and in our thoughts as we consider the choices we make in our life.

Respect is one of the most important teachings and must be understood in order to give and receive it. All cultures teach this, and Anishinaabek are no different. Our way of life taught us to respect all that is upon the earth: plants, animals, land, and the water. We do this to ensure that we have what we need and to think of the next seven generations.

Water is vital to our existence; it provides nourishment to human beings, plants, and animals. It is the lifeblood of Mother Earth. For those in the Great Lakes region, we are blessed to be able to live by the largest fresh water lakes in the world. How can we show our respect to the water knowing what we do? 

We know the Great Lakes have many uses, like recreational uses of swimming, fishing, and boating, and the economical uses that include shipping freighters and commercial fishing. So how is it that we come to understand the importance of water and respect that it’s a natural gift to all people? How do we respect water in its natural state? 

There are many people today who are standing up and speaking on behalf of water. It doesn’t matter where they come from or who they are, but what matters is they are reminding everyone to respect the water and to ensure she is here for many generations to come.

The Anishinaabek are grateful to the many people and organizations like FLOW who are providing education to the politicians, residents, community organizations, and businesses regarding water. It will take everyone to come together to discuss, learn, and share their knowledge about our Great Lakes. Each one of us has an important role in this effort.

JoAnne Cook is vice chair of FLOW’s Board of Directors and a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. She is from Peshawbestown, Michigan.

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