Women Walking with Water:
Gender and Indigenous traditions of water protection in today's Michigan
In the face of increasing stressors on water quality and management in the Great Lakes, many seek to use indigenous knowledge, but what of respecting the intellectual property of the Anishinaabe people, especially women?
Water, knowledge, and gender are three concepts that are hard to measure. Water is constantly moving and can't be held by political boundaries, just as knowledge and gender are complex, fluid constructs. But they can all be linked to inequality, especially in the state of Michigan.
Knowledge about water, in Anishinaabe cultures based in the Great Lakes Region, is a deeply gendered concept tied to a marginalized culture. Knowledge that is held by women water protectors is deeply tied to conflicts related to colonization and land appropriation. As residents of Michigan realize the challenges to water quality around them, more are seeking out methods water protectors used traditionally to restore and protect the Lakes, rivers and streams of our state. In fact, even some white residents of Michigan now claim "water protectors" status. In this case, we explore why they should be more aware of these historical conflicts. Appropriation of indigenous knowledge and natural resources, and the especially vulnerable status of indigenous women are all issues worth considering--and educating about--as needed coalitions across social groups emerge for water protection.
Statement from the primary author (04.08.2020)
I grew up on the shore of southern Lake Michigan, in the very small, conservative, and white community of Holland. I spent my summers as a child at the beach for local residents that was a 5 minute bike ride from my house. I spent my summers in high school working at a souvenir shop, guiding excited visitors to my ‘favorite’ tourist beaches (far away from my actual favorite places to witness the lake). My life revolved around the water that surrounded and built my community. Despite this, I knew literally nothing about the people who inhabited the land I lived on before my own. I didn’t even know that the word ‘Michigan’ was Algonquian, meaning large water. It wasn’t until I was an upperclassman at my undergraduate institution that I was even introduced to the fact that the Anishinaabe existed, let alone that they make up communities throughout the Great Lakes Regions to this day. I have worked hard to remedy this gap in my education, but I have a long way to go in my personal learning process. This case should be read with this in mind.
As a non-indigenous resident of the Great Lakes Region, I acknowledge that my community has actively worked to erase the narrative of the Anishinaabe’s relationship with the water from the region’s history. This case is meant to explain the origins of this relationship with the water, and explain why the knowledge that has resulted from this relationship should be treated with respect. Those with any concerns, corrections or additions to this case can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org