The Mni Ki Wakan: World Indigenous Peoples’ Decade Water Summit emerged from humble beginnings. With minimal or no funding support, a local youth program resolved to embark upon multi-day canoe expeditions. Paddling the ancient water ways of Dakota ancestors, our indigenous youth paddled every twist and turn of the original maps known to our predecessors since time immemorial. Armed with a map that portrayed the numerous small and large water ways and water bodies of the Great Lakes region, youth set out to explore, discover, experience, and recover the healthy perspectives and wise insights of our indigenous predecessors.

Amidst these enchanting explorations emerged a flagship event known as the Mde Maka Ska Canoe Nations Gathering. Today, it still engages and contributes to youth and community enrichment upon the surface of the largest lake in Minnesota’s largest city, Minneapolis. Historically known as Mde Maka Ska, a Dakota name meaning “White Earth Lake,” it hosts hundreds of indigenous youth each year. Until very recently, the lake held a settler name of an early 1800s American politician named John Calhoun, who owned slaves and drafted the genocidal proposal to remove thousands of indigenous peoples from their homelands. Eventually, President Jackson enacted this proposal, thereby, resulting in the forced removal of thousands of indigenous peoples from the east coast of the United States to the country’s central interior. Thousands of indigenous peoples from five nations died upon this first Trail of Tears before their arrival in present-day Oklahoma. Eventually, more death marches of indigenous peoples followed. Today, after years of collective efforts by indigenous peoples, the ancient Dakota ancestral name: Mde Make Ska has officially been restored among the broader community.

In preceding years, the sacred body of water, Mde Maka Ska: White Earth Lake, has been host to indigenous-led Community Conversations seeking to strengthen the broader community’s relationship with the sacredness of water in order to inspire a more sustainable future. In thinking upstream collectively, the Mni Ki Wakan: World Indigenous Peoples’ Decade of Water came to surface, and seeks to place the designs of transformation and change back in the hands of indigenous peoples, and to raise this growing story to planetary proportions.

Concurrently, as many innovative initiatives continue to bloom across the aquatic rich region of the Minnesota, originally known as, Mnisota Makoce: The Land of Misty and Foggy Waters, Sicangu Lakota delegates have continuously journeyed to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, voicing the urgent need to protect water, water defenders, and to strengthen the implementation of indigenous human rights. On May 19th, 2016, Sicangu Lakota delegates provided the following intervention on water:

Greetings Chairman, distinguished dignitaries, and indigenous relatives,

Water connects us all. Without clean water, there is no life. Mni wakan, Water is Sacred. Mni pejuta, water as a first medicine. Many indigenous nations believe and know they were born from water. Yet, indigenous peoples remain the few who remember these original and sacred instructions regarding our intimate relationship with water. We do not separate the creator from creation.

We are facing a world-wide water crises unlike anything we have ever seen before. Water is being consumed at an alarming rate, used unsustainably, and is contaminated more and more with each passing day.

Indigenous peoples, communities, and Nations retain the wisdom and traditional ecological knowledge that is most urgently needed to restore a more sustainable future of water.

Article 32 of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Section 2, provides that, “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”

Section 3 says that “States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.”

As such, indigenous peoples and Nations must to be seen as central to all activities involving water, at all levels, in that they provide the traditional ecological knowledge which is the last remaining frontline for the protection of water.

Indigenous led water initiatives, such as the upcoming Mni Wakan: Decade of Water summit to be held in central Minnesota USA in 2017 must be fully supported as a matter of indigenous water rights implementation. Therefore, we invite the appropriate United Nations’ representatives, and indigenous peoples to attend this global indigenous-led water summit.

In conclusion, Indigenous peoples throughout the world are fighting to protect sacred water, these water defenders must have their communities’ and Nations’ water rights protected, implemented, and respected. We do not just want to be another after-thought. We must create a collective world story where future generations will benefit from Mni Wakan.  

Finally, chairman, to close we celebrate the life of our friend Berta Caceres of Honduras who died protecting the sacred rivers and her peoples; water is life.

Thank you, Chairman, Dignitaries, Indigenous relatives, and representatives.