Email us at


Monday, April 4, 2016

Water is a Human Right: Protecting the Antler River

London Council of Canadians Meeting 
March 30, 2016 

 “Water is a Human Right: 
          Protecting the Antler River” 

Blog by Michael Loebach

Chief Leslee Whiteye 
Chippewas of the Thames First Nation 

Chief Whiteye gave her thoughts on the impact of water as essential to all life. Her nation is downstream from London and wishes to act on water issues, but it seeks to develop relationships with the various entities in the stream, as no one can work on this alone, and actions of the different entities impact others in the stream. Complacency is a problem; thinking someone else will take care of this; the results can show as in Flint, Michigan. The different users of water for fishing, recreation, and industry, both in First Nations areas and in urban areas, must consider the impact on safety and the future, of their use of the water, and be accountable for their impact. Recently, her nation has joined with two other local ones to work together with the City of London to develop a policy with respect to sustainable water use. This is how her ancestors did things with neighboring nations in the past. Water’s well-being is critical to our social, cultural and spiritual well-being. Her hope is that the process with the city will be respectful, not just picking sides, as that leads to litigation, costs, and no results; give and take is needed. Her nation respects the municipal structures but needs to be consulted, and the two entities need to problem solve together and to combat complacency and not leave the issue to industry. 

Grandmother Irene Peters 
Munsee Delaware First Nation 

Grandmother Irene described herself as a Great Lakes Water Walker of the Turtle Clan. She said that she did not want to talk negatively, but that water had to be respected and looked after and not have garbage thrown in. The water is a living spirit; life must be respected; no one should take away life, least of all their own; they need to wait to be called. She had a stroke and felt it was her time, but then she saw that she was not being called. She looked to water to heal, going to a sweat lodge to throw water over hot rocks, to connect with her grandparents, to pray, to heal, and to look for help from the water spirit. She drank water to heal from her stroke and to rehabilitate. In the full moon ceremony there is a connection to grandmother moon, who needs to be trusted, who regulates water, looking to women to purify, and to learn; and to grandfather fire to which all goes to life. The young must learn to respect puberty and menstruation and must learn that water is essential to birth and comes before the baby. She tried to join the Water Walker, Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, in her walk around Lake Superior, but she missed her at that time. She then joined her later to walk around other Great Lakes. She learned how water heals; a doctor had given up on life for a baby, but the baby was brought to the water on the walk, and was healed. An older man with a leg problem (he had been hit by a truck) came and was healed, as he believed water could heal. 

Steve Sauder 
Upper Thames River Conservation Authority 

Steve spoke of the Thames River, which has various names, including Antler River. He spoke of his youth when he was curious about nature and spent time at a farm in the countryside and at an outdoor school. Recently he had the opportunity to go to Belize and explored nature, found 115 species of plant and animal life new to him, and was able to connect to nature. He spoke of a 16 year old who was hired by the Authority, who had no formal training in nature, but stood out for his love of nature; he is Scott Dillingwater, and he is now a world-renowned expert on turtles. Scott has headed a project of reproduction of soft shell turtles, which has taken 15 years of work; this year they were able to release 4,000 baby turtles into the river, the survival of which is a strong indicator of river health. Habitat is crucial; they saw that the Avon River banks were barren; there were no tree or plant buffers, but after restoring these they now see brook trout. Wetlands need to be restored, and phosphorous management needs to be more strongly emphasized. They are working on projects in Glen Cairn and Ingersoll. He then showed a video on Scott Dillingwater, which showed soft  shell turtle nests and the release of baby turtles into the river. 

Tom Cull 
Thames River Rally 

Tom spoke about Thames River Rally, a project he started in 2012 with his partner, Miriam, who decided to do a clean up of the river in the Carfrae Park area; in the first year of this project, on the first day they got only one further participant; but with ongoing efforts and a newspaper article, the project has gone on for 5 years, and hundreds have been involved in various cleanup projects in the city. They have learned the links between the environment and social issues, such as poverty, homelessness and addiction, and they see that a strong river leads to a strong community. They have partnered with London Cares, an addiction control agency, and have placed needle bins in many areas, which get up to 4,000 needles per week thrown into them instead of into the river or on the banks. They have, for now, discarded the idea of forming a charity as they see it as too much paperwork, and they prefer using their energy and resources on direct action, in cleanup efforts. They are pursuing a dialogue with first nations and community health organizations. 

Scott Howe 
Grade 8 teacher 
Thames Valley District School Board 

Scott related his experiences with his grade 8 class, which developed Taps On/Taps Off research projects in art, science and math classes, and so became excited and motivated about water issues. At first, the purpose of Taps Off was to advocate shorter showers; then they got interested in broader issues, including the election, the Paris climate summit, and they also learned about First Nations problems with water, in which they had to turn their taps off because of pollution; they learned that the government said it would take ten years to fix, so they did research on the origins of the situation and why it might take that long. They researched the town of Alvinston, Ontario, where there was a water scare, and went to London city hall and spoke to staff for 70 minutes on water issues. They have also contacted David Suzuki to hear what he has to say about solutions to the climate problem. 

Bryan Smith 
OPAL (Oxford People Against the Landfill) 

Bryan spoke about the proposal to put mid-level Toronto garbage into a depleted limestone quarry near Ingersoll. This is an upstream problem (for London) which affects water in the air, on the surface and in the ground. The goals of OPAL are: a) to stop the dump; b) to get the city of Toronto to change its garbage shipment plan. They have held “trashapalooza” events, which are an exchange of used items to prevent them from being put into the garbage stream. 

Question and Answer Session 

Steve Sauder was asked about farm runoff and said that it was getting better and that bigger farms did not necessarily do worse on this. He was asked about phosphorous and said that testing was most important and useful and had to be done right. 

Chief Whiteye spoke about the ongoing efforts to get a friendship agreement between the City of London and First Nations. 

Mark Drewe, our videographer for this event, spoke about his group, which is planning a London-to-Lake St. Clair canoe and kayak trip down the Thames, and stated that Rogers has agreed to do a documentary about the trip.

(Photos courtesy of Mark Drewe)

No comments: