There are 70 of us assembled here at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana for the opening of the first-ever Great Lakes Commons Gathering. In the opening circle we introduce ourselves and pour water brought from our homes around the Lakes into a large clear bowl. This confluence of the waters reflects the real and symbolic center of our meeting.
We have come from many places, disciplines and backgrounds to explore a new vision for the future of the Great Lakes. We are embarking on an historic joint mission, one that weaves together the knowledge and needs of our different communities, one that ensures a life giving future for all people and species around the lakes.
As we begin, Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) elder and founder of the Mother Earth Water Walk, makes an offering to the water itself. The Great Lakes are the heart of Anishinaabe territory, and women are the water’s caretakers, responsible for protecting it. Josephine describes how she began walking and praying for the lakes– a journey that has taken her and fellow Mother Earth Water Walkers around all five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. She recalls listening to the Grand Chief of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge, who said that 30 years from now an ounce of water would cost the same as an ounce of gold if we continue our negligence. Grandmother Josephine carries a vial of gold with her and asks each of us “What will you tell your grandchildren when they ask what you did for the water?”