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About the Mni Ki Wakan: Water Summit

The Mni Ki Wakan: World Indigenous Peoples Decade of Water Summit is an indigenous-led initiative that is dedicated to elevating indigenous voices on water and human rights. Each year, it will convene indigenous peoples, youth, global actors, and allies from the international community at the host site designated by indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples, youth, and supporters will help co-create and design an indigenous-centered, youth-oriented, and decade-long water summit that reflects the diverse tributaries of values and confluences of indigenous wisdom and knowledge. Indigenous peoples will convene to envision what will happen at our summit for the future of water.

They will think upstream together in designing and emerging uniquely powerful and flexible experiences for the future of the water summit. Sharing their experience, expertise, and stories that will empower and contribute to a responsive summit structure now and in the future.

Mni Ki Wakan: A Global Community

Featured are co-conveners, indigenous advisors, and regional coordinators of the Mni Ki Wakan: World Indigenous Peoples Decade of Water Summit. Together, we are building an intimate global community dedicated to the future of water. Featured at the beginning are Nancy Bordeaux and Tiana LaPointe, Sicangu Lakota, who announce the inaugural Mni Ki Wakan on May 19th, 2017, at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 16th Session. Both have been deeply involved in working with indigenous youth, women, and Mother Earth. Followed by Ta’Kaiya Blaney, internationally renowned singer and indigenous environmental activist from Tla A’min Nation, British Columbia, Canada. Ta’Kaiya has journeyed the world as a voice and protector of water.


There are approximately 375 million indigenous peoples throughout the world living in 90 different countries and whose indigenous languages comprise 5,000 of the world’s 7,000 languages. Their cultural and language diversity has led to the conservation and protection of 80% of the world’s richest and rarest biodiversity. Today, one-fourth of the world’s land is owned and managed by indigenous peoples outside of Antarctica. When indigenous human rights are secured, the rate for ecological sustainability increases.

The question of who indigenous peoples are becomes clearer through the ‘working definition’ below developed by Jose R. Martinez Cobo, the Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, in his famous Study on the Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations:

“Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system.

This historical continuity may consist of the continuation, for an extended period reaching into the present of one or more of the following factors:

  1. Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them;
  2. Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands;
  3. Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribal system, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, lifestyle, etc.);
  4. Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual means of communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual, general or normal language);
  5. Residence on certain parts of the country, or in certain regions of the world;
  6. Other relevant factors.

On an individual basis, an indigenous person is one who belongs to these indigenous populations through self-identification as indigenous (group consciousness) and is recognized and accepted by these populations as one of its members (acceptance by the group). This preserves for these communities the sovereign right and power to decide who belongs to them, without external interference.”

Indigenous peoples and youth throughout the world retain water and land ethics that continue to inform sustainable decision-making and solution-oriented approaches at all levels today. The Mni Ki Wakan: Water Summit taps into water as one of the greatest confluences for global transformation by emphasizing indigenous solution-oriented approaches, and upstream thinking.

Utilizing the collective knowledge, wisdom, and co-intelligence of indigenous peoples and youth, the Mni Ki Wakan draws on time honored indigenous values of coming together in participatory collective conversations and interactive sessions. In the process, Mni Ki Wakan creates a flexible environment for the innovative and transformative thinking of indigenous peoples.


Mni Ki Wakan centers the creative indigenous process of collective and interactive dialogue that enables the participation of every stakeholder, impacting multiple target areas providing a comprehensive indigenous water approach. Activating and opening access to the future to 100 percent of the collective innovation, knowledge, and wisdom in each session. The process of indigenized interactive dialogue enables indigenous participants to express their visions, gifts, and possibilities for the future of environment and water. The collective input, innovations, transformations, and consensus become the guiding language and framework of Mni Ki Wakan with implementation led by global indigenous Co-Coordinators, Global Water Ambassadors, Partners, Supporters,  Teams, and Co-Conveners.


Departing from a purely presentation-based conventional conference format, Indigenized interactive dialogue and summit processes offer the opportunity for every participant to meet, develop key relationships, meaningful partnerships, and critical connections necessary to tap into previously unexplored regions of innovation. Indigenous peoples, youth, and allies receive the opportunity to engage with each other from throughout the world community. These meaningful and lasting relationships support long range plans that emerge from Mni Ki Wakan.

The Mni Ki Wakan process is emblematic of many similarities of traditional knowledge and indigenous customary practices of collective consensus, relationship, and innovation building that requires the deep exploration of imagination and visioning of futurities.  Our process steps back into the circle of community, flattening hierarchies, where everyone’s voice and creative input is valued and contributes to the development of the future of water and environment.


The creative input, collective consensus, and actionable innovations contribute to the development of a holistic Global Report that provides the guiding language, principles, and framework of Mni Ki Wakan to be implemented by Co-Conveners, Co-Coordinators, Global Water Ambassadors, Partners, Key Relations, and Supporters.

Our indigenous facilitators enable traditional knowledge to guide the process to ensure indigenous values are centered and translated into innovations and transformations.

Core Areas

Traditional Knowledge | Arts | Water Technology |  Food Sovereignty | Biodiversity | Indigenous Human Rights | Indigenous Water Governance | Collective & Interactive Dialogue | Indigenous Youth | Rights of Nature


Mni Ki Wakan centers and integrates the guiding language of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to ensure a strategic and comprehensive environmental water movement. While SDGs set goals and target areas for western world leaders, indigenous peoples have emerged the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that set out 46 articles describing their human rights. They are the inherent ways of life, goals, and target areas that have persisted for indigenous peoples for centuries. Many of the rights articles of indigenous peoples relate to water and environment. Mni Ki Wakan centers the voices and inherent rights of indigenous peoples as the guiding framework and language for its work. Below is one article that expresses the indigenous spiritual right to water:

Article 25 of UNDRIP: “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.”

Mni Ki Wakan provides input to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on indigenous human rights and innovations during sessions and key meetings. Each year, a Mni Ki Wakan team attends to develop strategic partnerships and key relationships with indigenous peoples organizations, non-governmental organizations, and UN agencies; announcing the annual Mni Ki Wakan on the UN floor, calling for global collaboration and partnership. On May 1st, 2019, Mni Ki Wakan launched its creation of a global indigenous water body capable of maximizing collaboration and partnerships between indigenous water organizations and unifying indigenous water initiatives to develop a cohesive map and blueprint that can be charted by indigenous peoples and youth. Mni Ki Wakan provides input through UNPFII sessions to prompt the development of a UNPFII led indigenous water coordinating body, and study.

Mni Ki Wakan provides input into the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, advocating for the need to conduct a study on indigenous waters that can be used to elevate indigenous water issues, human rights, and approaches at global and regional levels, across diverse environmental and water sectors.

Mni Ki Wakan promotes the use and integration of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into environment, water, and other sectors who have not yet incorporated the basic human rights standards of indigenous peoples. Such as the right to free, informed, and prior consent, & full, equal, and effective participation.


Mni Ki Wakan recognizes traditional knowledge as the first line of defense and customary approach of indigenous peoples to water and environmental restoration, protection, and preservation. Today, traditional knowledge has translated to the rights of nature movement that involves recognizing the legal personality of water, legal protections, and other unexplored initiatives.

Traditional knowledge includes traditional kinship and governance systems; environmental and water management systems; traditional health, wellbeing, and community systems; educational systems and more that predate colonial systems. Traditional knowledge is a term that describes a world that predates and continues to out sustain non-indigenous paradigms today.


The human right to water was first introduced by Bolivia, an indigenous government in 2010. In 2015, world leaders, governments, and NGOs set a strategic sustainable development goals to be achieved by 2030. One of them was the right to clean water and sanitation that outlined 8 Target Areas, known as Sustainable Development Goal 6. However, many indigenous rights advocates agreed that integral water sectors had been mapped, but once again, without the meaningful input, full, equal, and effective participation of indigenous peoples and with deficient consideration of their basic human rights.

Sustainable development goal 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, was agreed upon by 198 world governments as a plan to reduce water scarcity and adverse conditions to be implemented at all levels by governments, NGOs, and civil society by 2030. SDG 6 maps integral environmental water sectors in the human right to water. However, often these important water sectors leave out indigenous peoples and youth. Therefore, each SDG 6 Target Areas also set locations for the indigenous innovation, movements, and updates using the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, meaningful partnerships, and strategic indigenous coordination.

Below are the 8 Target Areas of Sustainable Development Goal 6 that map important water sectors reflected at regional levels. SDG 6 Target Areas identify targets for indigenous voices, movements, using the Declaration on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:


  • By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
  • By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations
  • By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
  • By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity
  • By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate
  • By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes
  • By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies
  • Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.

Projections for water scarcity lead to startling figures. For example, the 2019, UN Water World Water Report, states:  “if the degradation of the natural environment and the unsustainable pressure on global water resources continue at current rates, 45% of global Gross Domestic Product and 40% of global grain production will be at risk by 2050.” The current western treatment of water leads to economic, social, cultural, and political changes not fully accounted for in regional sectors. Many to point to alternatives as high rates of depletion and contamination escalate.

The need for the voices and movements of indigenous peoples and youth in each water sector and area of environment identified in SDG 6 is urgent. Today, indigenous peoples have enabled 80 percent of the world’s richest and rarest biodiversity across land and water to survive on their territories, while they continue to work for the protection of Mother Earth and all life.


The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Sustainable Development Goals adds core pragmatic sections for indigenous water innovation that are often missing or lacking from western environmental water maps, meaning sustainability sectors and work. Not shared in the Sustainable Development Goals, is the integral area of indigenous human rights, such as consultation, meaningful partnerships, and supporting indigenous peoples in their water innovations at an equal level.

At a regional level, the water sector is viewed primarily as a government bureaucracy, leaving out invaluable community leadership, action, coordination, stories, and implementation of the human right to water, its diverse Target Areas expressed by Sustainable Development Goal 6, and indigenous innovation still to be realized. While governments continue to report escalating water issues themselves and contamination, they often omit civil society’s role in water and environment. Mni Ki Wakan focuses on the development of and supporting indigenous peoples initiatives through an unprecedented level of coordination, collaboration, and creative partnerships.


Water bodies extend beyond many jurisdictions crossing boundaries. As water depletion and consumption increase across boundaries, heightening water efficiency standards in one jurisdiction while consumption increases in the adjacent area may still impact overall water sources. Increasing indigenous representation on transboundary waters is an imperative area of indigenous water governance.



Too often, non-indigenous organizations, indigenous organizations, and decision-makers have lacked or are missing a strong process and basic description of free, informed, & prior consent as they introduce water and environmental legislation, propose projects, and standards for water leading to major environmental issues that infringe on indigenous rights. Often, forgoing indigenous human rights, but would change the environmental water landscape considerably if they incorporate basic articles from the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


  • Approximately 70 per cent of all water abstracted from rivers, lakes and aquifers is used for irrigation; Floods and other water-related disasters account for 70 per cent of all deaths related to natural disasters; But water scarcity affects more than 40 per cent of the global population and is projected to rise (UN Water, World Water Report 2019).
  • Over 1.7 billion people are currently living in river basins where water use exceeds recharge (World Water Report 2019).
  • More than 80 per cent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or sea without any pollution removal (World Water Report 2019).
  • World Water Report 2019: if the degradation of the natural environment and the unsustainable pressure on global water resources continue at current rates, 45% of global Gross Domestic Product and 40% of global grain production will be at risk by 2050.
  • 80 percent of the world’s richest and rarest biodiversity across land and water has survived due to indigenous peoples.
  • One-fourth of the world’s land base outside of Antarctica is overseen by indigenous peoples.
  • Many integral aquifers are being used at unsustainable rates.
  • 71 percent of the global population, 5.2 billion people, had safely-managed drinking water in 2015, but 844 million people still lacked even basic drinking water.
  • 39 percent of the global population, 2.9 billion people, had safe sanitation in 2015, but 2.3 billion people still lacked basic sanitation. 892 million people practiced open defecation.
  • 80 percent of wastewater goes into waterways without adequate treatment.
  • Water stress affects more than 2 billion people, with this figure projected to increase.
  • 80 percent of countries have laid the foundations for integrated water resources management.
  • The world has lost 70 percent of its natural wetlands over the last century.
  • Safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 requires we invest in adequate infrastructure, provide sanitation facilities, and encourage hygiene. Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems is essential.

UN Indigenous Media Zone Live Broadcast 2018

With the Live Broadcast from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs moderated by Arnold Blackstar, a member of the Nêhiyawak (Cree) nation of the central prairies of Canada, from the community of Moosomin First Nation, Wakinyan LaPointe and Nancy Bordeaux (Ta Canku Luta Wi) presented about the Mni Ki Wakan: World Indigenous Peoples Decade of Water (2017-2026) at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 17th Session, timely themed, “Indigenous Peoples’ Collective Rights to Lands, Territories, and Resources.” They are joined by Leanne Burney, UN Water, speaking on the Action Water Decade launched on March 22, 2018, World Water Day.

Thorne LaPointe Presents on Water on the UN Floor

In the presence of indigenous peoples and youth from various regions throughout the world, Thorne LaPointe presented a statement on the human right to water and the Mni Ki Wakan: World Indigenous Peoples’ Decade of Water Summit in the spirit of collective indigenous self-determination globally. Thorne calls for the recognition of water’s legal personality and greater coordination and elevation of indigenous peoples voices on water globally.

2017 Mni Ki Wakan featured in International Cultural Survival Magazine:

“Water is life. And our oceans are precious sources of that life. Indigenous Peoples have been sounding the alarm for decades, warning the world that a shift needs to happen towards a more sustainable and equitable future. Indigenous leaders speak on what is being done and the path forward to protect the world’s oceans.” Read more about how “Mni Ki Wakan Water Summit Builds A Movement”


Mni Ki Wakan: Four Sacred Directions Water Walk featured in the Minneapolis, Minnesota, Star Tribune:

People gathered for a prayer session, led by LeMoine LePointe and his sons Thorne LaPointe and Wakinyan LaPointe, on the south side of White Earth Lake (Lake Calhoun) for the second annual Mde Maka Ska: Four Sacred Directions Water Walk in Minneapolis, Minn., on July 31, 2017. This event, which celebrates Lake Bde Make Ska and was the kick off two the two day MNI KI WAKAN.” Read more about the “Mni Ki Wakan: Four Sacred Directions Water Walk”