“Water Is the Essence of Life”

photo: Nancy May

By JoAnne Cook, FLOW Board Member and former Tribal Court Judge

The Anishinaabek, who are the Indigenous people from the Great Lakes area, are born with an innate sense of our connection to everything around us. We feel the connection between us and all things in creation, whether it’s people, plants, or animals. We feel it in everything that is part of our Mother, the Earth. There is knowledge about creation and how it fits together and in balance. It isn’t easily expressed into words, as it is a way of thinking and being. We, the Anishinaabek, understand that living in balance with all things is what we seek. As caretakers of the Earth, we use what we need and strive to ensure it is there for the next seven generations. 

Expressing that to others, who may not live by those standards or do not believe in those principles, is something that Anishinaabek have struggled to convey soon after the arrival of non-native people. Our elders and grandparents before us have tried to explain as best they could that our teachings regarding the water are true and have tremendous meaning and consequences. 

As the people of this planet have grown and come to understand it, either through science or faith, there is a common view emerging that supports the connectedness among all living things. Science has also begun to support the Anishinaabek teachings regarding water through prayer and positive energy. Water is the essence of life. We receive our physical life from water and need water to sustain it. It is always through remembrance that we carry the importance of it forward.

At times, we have forgotten the importance of life and what sustains us. We think progress and products are the focus for the future, but we can’t have that if we don’t have our basic needs met. It is through connection and cultural values that we are able to remember and then make forward progress. The Anishinaabek are no different: We have overcome much and are now going back to remember and bring forward the teachings around water and how we can support the efforts of so many to ensure the Great Lakes are healthy and clean for future generations. 

As we think of the next seven generations, we need to ask ourselves if we have contributed and done our part to ensure a future that includes a healthy environment with clean water. All people who live within the Great Lakes understand the importance of it. We realize it’s now time to come together and share our collective knowledge and teachings for the benefit of all.

The Anishinaabek were told a time would come during the seventh fire when others would come seeking and desiring to understand our worldview and knowledge of this place. It seems our connection to water has brought us all together and again supports what has been told to the Anishinaabek. Together and with the efforts of many, we will continue to speak, share, and discuss how we help the water of the Great Lakes so, in turn, she will continue to provide for us and future generations.

About the Author: JoAnne Cook, who is from Peshawbestown, Michigan, serves on FLOW’s board of directors and is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa/Chippewa Indians. Her previous professional experience includes one term on Tribal Council (2012-2016) and with Tribal Courts as a Tribal Court Judge for two tribal communities (1994-2011). She received her Business Administration degree from Ferris State University and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin School of Law.

4 comments on ““Water Is the Essence of Life”

  1. Brian Upton on

    FLOW could not have chosen a better person to serve on its Board then JoAnne Cook. Great choice, and thanks for posting her thoughts. I saw a link to these comments on TurtleTalk.

  2. Cheryl Dinger on

    I attended Joanne’s “Anishinaabek Lecture Series” hosted by Omena Historical Society this past summer. Her lectures were interesting, inspiring and enlightening. Joanne gives a gentle and important reminder in her teachings that we must take good care of our fresh water and mother earth that benefits all life now, and it is also our responsibility to do so for the generations to come. Thank you Joanne for your work with FLOW!


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