November 03, 2010

Water recognized as a sacred source of life

As published in The Erin Advocate

Just a few days after seeing a presentation on the sacredness of water, my roof sprang a leak, delivering a steady drip into my front hallway. So I ended up on the roof at night with my flashlight, in the middle of a thunderstorm, attaching an extension to a downspout that would direct the deluge away from some damaged shingles. I can assure you that I was not thinking about the sacredness of water.

The presentation had been by Anthony Templer, an Elder from the Peel Aboriginal Network, at the annual meeting of Wellington Water Watchers, the group that has led the local fight against bottled water and high-volume water taking by Nestlé.

After a cleansing ceremony and a drum song, his message was blunt: there's a crisis looming as the world runs low on clean water. Ontarians are often wasteful of water because it appears to be so abundant. Maybe we would be more interested in conservation if we had to carry it long distances in buckets, as millions of people do in other countries.

"Something has to be done immediately for the water and the land," he said. "Don't forget what you inherited from your parents and their parents. It's all up to you. For the sacredness of water you have to be grateful. We need to be stewards of it. We listen to the water and it tells us that it is sick."

He said inadequate protection and wasteful attitudes will lead to a water crisis in which many people will die.

"Eventually, we won't be able to drink it. We have to be on fire on this issue. It's a passion – not an aggression – and it catches on. Be honest all day. Then you can respect the sacredness of water. Because before it was water, it was spirit."

For those who consider water sacred, the buying and selling of it as a commodity is offensive, and it creates various dilemmas. We pay money to have municipalities purify water and deliver it to our taps, but some people find it unacceptable that private firms like Nestlé make a profit by taking an essentially free resource and selling it in environmentally-offensive plastic bottles.

At the recent all-candidates' meeting in Erin, some wanted to see a heavy license fee put on water taking, partly to preserve the water and partly to generate income for the Town. The province has the authority in this matter, but has given no sign it is interested in high fees, and Water Watchers has no official position on them. The issue is complex, because once water is taxed as a resource (like oil), it becomes more of a commodity – one that the Americans could claim is tradable under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Wellington Water Watchers is a grassroots group of people from Guelph and Wellington, committed to protecting local water resources and to educating the public about threats to the watershed. They've distributed more than 13,000 reusable water bottles and brought their promotion of tap water to 30,000 area students – aiming for 50,000 soon. Check out

They keep a close eye on water taking by Nestlé, which runs tanker trucks day and night from a well in Hillsburgh to a plant in Aberfoyle. The firm is entitled to take up to 1.1 million litres per day, but normally takes considerably less. Although the well has not caused measurable harm to the local water supply, Water Watchers is still concerned about the long-term impact.

The Peel Aboriginal Network is a social and cultural organization that promotes awareness of Aboriginal values and traditions. Check out Templer said we need to be more than just thankful for water, but to be thankful to the water.

Water is important in the Judeo-Christian tradition, starting with the Spirt of God hovering over the dark waters even before the creation of light, at the opening of the Book of Genesis. Most spiritual traditions throughout the world recognize a special significance in water, for its role in creation, purification, rebirth, healing and fertility.

"Water, the first living spirit on this earth, gives life to all creation," says the Indigenous Environmental Network, on its website, "Our knowledge, laws and ways of life teach us to be responsible at all times in caring for this sacred gift that connects all life.

"All people deserve the right to a clean and accessible water source. However, throughout the world people are struggling for this basic human right. World trade agreements, industries, and corporations want to view water as a commodity, an item that can be traded and sold to the highest bidder, rather than acknowledge that water is a common and basic need for all life."