Rarely does the convergence of political responsibility, Indigenous Rights, and ecosystem benefit converge in such a dramatic and urgent way

The following is a press release detailing a letter from 14 religious and 7 Indigenous leaders calling on American President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to begin work toward modernizing the Columbia River Treaty. The treaty addresses the governing of water resources to promote economic growth, wealth, and happiness for the citizens of these nations. Canadian National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald is among the signatories.Columbia_dams_map


Today religious and indigenous leaders urged President Obama and Prime Minister Harper to start negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty. Both nations need to work together to right historic wrongs and promote water stewardship in the face of climate change. The letter, signed by 14 religious leaders and 7 indigenous leaders representing nearly all Tribes and First Nations in the Columbia Basin, transmitted a Declaration on Ethics and modernizing the Columbia River Treaty as a foundation for international negotiations.

“The Declaration speaks very clearly of how important and critical it is for there to be justice to correct the many years of injustice to the Native people of the Columbia Basin, including the First Nations of Canada,” said Matt Wynne, Chairman of the Upper Columbia United Tribes. “Religious and indigenous leaders coming together to sign and support this declaration underscores that the future of the Columbia River is not just a political, but a moral issue. Native Americans suffered the greatest losses and the most damage as a result of not being included in the first negotiations leading up to the 1964 Treaty. It helps keep my spirit strong knowing that our struggle for justice and stewardship of the river carries so much faith-based support.”

“Rarely does the convergence of political responsibility, Indigenous Rights, and ecosystem benefit converge in such a dramatic and urgent way,” said Bishop Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church of Canada’s first National Indigenous Anglican Bishop. “A modernized treaty for the Columbia River is an opportunity for all the peoples of the Columbia – and the great system of life which is the River ecosystem – to walk through to a new day of justice and well-being.”

The Declaration on Ethics and Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty sets forth eight principles for modernizing the Columbia River Treaty that include respecting indigenous rights, protecting and restoring healthy ecosystems with abundant fish and wildlife populations, and providing fish passage to all historical locations.

“Our Tribal and First Nation communities in both Canada and the United States have fundamentally relied on Salmon as our life source,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Chair of the Okanagan Nation Alliance. “As Elders have stated ‘we are salmon people.’ The unilateral and ignorant actions of the U.S. power authorities blocking our salmon in the 1930s with dam construction followed a few decades later by turning our Upper Columbia watershed into industrial storage reservoirs has devastated our Lands, Fisheries and gravely impacted our culture and communities.”

“The original Columbia River Treaty was signed with no input from the original inhabitants of the land,” said Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation Council Chair. “Traditional ways of life in the Columbia Basin were radically altered forever. It is important that we recognize the mistakes of the past so that we may focus on the future. We must work together across territories and boundaries to build a new Columbia River Treaty that includes restoring salmon to the upper Columbia as a priority.”

Political leaders in Ottawa and Washington D.C. have not taken a position on the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty. Federal agencies within the United States have recommended that the United States and Canada “develop a modernized framework for the Treaty that ensures a more resilient and healthy ecosystem-based function throughout the Columbia River Basin while maintaining an acceptable level of flood risk and assuring reliable and economic hydropower benefits.” All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation.

British Columbia provincial officials released their draft recommendation in March of 2014. Their recommendation was that the Treaty be renewed and that changes occur within the existing framework. The B.C. Province maintains that ecosystem values are currently an important consideration and that they should continue to be a consideration, as well as adaptation to climate change, in Treaty planning and implementation. The federal government in Ottawa that will negotiate with the United States has not yet issued Canada’s recommendations on the Treaty.

“The hard work needed to address these historical injustices is reflected in the strong unity that this group represents,” continued Grand Chief Phillip. “In Canada, We have the wind at our back with the recent supreme court of Canada’s Tsilhqot’in decision that paves the way for the broad recognition of our inherent title to our lands. The time is now for reconciliation that will support our stewardship responsibility for the salmon and passage into the upper Columbia. It’s an ethical and moral decision for the governments of Canada and the United States to do the right thing.”

Added Bishop MacDonald, “There is no doubt that a modernized Treaty restoring the Columbia River to health and returning salmon to ancestral spawning waters would transform discussions of environment, Indigenous Rights, and the future of sustainable life around the world. The churches, who have always rhetorically aspired to walk with Indigenous Peoples, have a chance, in this opportunity, to walk with Indigenous Peoples in a movement towards just and sustainable life for all.”

DOWNLOAD FULL TEXT OF LETTER AT anglican.us1.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=d120aa8efc4112c7cae41108e&id=9f9b7200da&e=3a5a6fdfd9

FULL ARTICLE with background and LINKS at http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=d120aa8efc4112c7cae41108e&id=5099195cc2&e=3a5a6fdfd9



Water: the Creator’s sacred gift

May 1, 2013–This article originally appeared in the Ministry Report, an Anglican Journal supplement produced by the Resources for Mission department of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Read online at http://news.anglican.ca/news/stories/2592?utm_source=Anglican+Church+of+Canada&utm_campaign=636cc0310b-email&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6285aca377-636cc0310b-243828149

For most of us, a safe water supply is as Canadian as medicare and the cultural mosaic. But for many indigenous people, clean water is a far cry from reality.

Across Canada, however, Anglicans are beginning to address this issue through anWaterBlessing initiative loosely formed by Bishop Mark MacDonald, national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada. MacDonald became aware of an uptick in church interest in 2011 when he raised the water question as keynote speaker at the diocese of Toronto’s annual social justice conference.

“There seemed to be little or no church concern about the water issue, and then all of a sudden, dozens of churches across Canada were interested in advocacy work in clean water for First Nations communities,” says MacDonald, who refers to his role as that of a facilitator.

“Some people just wanted to write a cheque, while others wanted to meet and talk and pray about it,” he recalls.

Now the “water group” meets every couple of months at Trinity Church in Aurora, north of Toronto, in sessions that typically attract about 20 people.

“Right now it’s mainly a spiritual movement, but in a couple of years it may become more of an institution,” he says. “We’re picking up people quickly, and a group is forming in Toronto to help the remote northern Ontario community of Pikangikum with water and other issues.”

The advocates’ ultimate aim is to get the federal government to live up to its legal obligations and spend the estimated $12 billion needed for the infrastructure improvements that will guarantee clean water to indigenous communities. “They refuse to do it,” MacDonald says. “It’s a political hot potato; they don’t want to pick it  up and get stuck with it. But it’s not going to go away.”

The Mennonite Church in Canada has been organizing to put pressure on the government, and the water network is now in conversation with the Assembly of First Nations about the best approach to take with the government.

In the meantime, the group is working on bridge solutions to improve access to clean water or replace broken delivery systems.

The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) and other organizations such as trade unions have become involved in this galvanizing issue. PWRDF, for example, is reviewing a plan to raise $100,000 for the Pikangikum Working Group over the spring and summer months. If the proposal is approved, PWRDF will be able to accept designated donations for it.

Sometimes the health problem in First Nations communities lies in a polluted water source; sometimes the water pipes are contaminated. A pilot project involving a couple of churches in the network has raised more than $10,000 so far for interim measures to improve water quality. These might include hiring trucks to deliver clean water, digging wells, and providing clean containers for carrying water, filtering devices for tap water or portable purification kits. “It’s going better than we ever anticipated, and there has been an amazing amount of  interest in Vancouver and Victoria as part of the network,” MacDonald says.

Gaining momentum, the group may soon officially assume the name Pimatisiwin Nipi (Oji-Cree for “living water”), and it will likely hold a national meeting at some point. “But for now, it’s a community of spiritual concern that stays together in conversation,” says MacDonald.

(Above Photo: The Rev. Andrew Wesley makes an offering to Lake Ontario in an adaptation of the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Great Blessing of the Water.)