Great Lakes communities ramp up fight against Nestlé and water privatization

I saw “Save Our Water” signs and blue ribbons tied on trees and porches throughout the community of Elora when I visited last week. The Blue Ribbon campaign was launched by local groups Save Our Water and Wellington Water Watchers as a way for residents to show their opposition to Nestlé’s bottled water takings and their collective goal to protect water for current and future generations.

Two years ago, Nestle bought the Middlebrook well on the edge of Elora, Ontario despite the local township of Centre Wellington attempting to buy the well to safeguard water for local residents.

I went to the Middlebrook well (photo above) with Donna McCaw and Jan Beverage of Save Our Water who talked about how vulnerable Elora’s drinking water supplies are. Elora, which is a community in the township of Centre Wellington, rely on three wells for drinking water. One well is stable but the other two wells are so vulnerable they cannot be pumped at the same time.

Centre Wellington’s population is expected to more than double in the next twenty five years. The Ontario government should require Nestlé to sell the Middlebrook well to Centre Wellington so the township can secure it as a source of drinking water for residents. Send a letter to tell the Ford government to protect water for people, not for Nestlé.

(Photo: Donna McCaw, left, and Jan Beverage, right, of Save Our Water at the Grand River in Elora)

Six Nations of the Grand River is downstream from Nestlé’s operations. But many people in Six Nations do not have access to clean drinking water. The Guardian recently reported, “Ninety-one percent of the homes in this community aren’t connected to the water treatment plant, says Michael Montour, director of public works for Six Nations. Some, like the Thomas home, have no water at all. Others have water in their taps, but it is too polluted to drink.”

Under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, governments are required to obtain free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous peoples for water projects like Nestle’s bottled water takings.

The Guardian also reported, “Makaśa Looking Horse, 21, a student in indigenous studies at McMaster University [who is from Six Nations], has organized a community-wide march for this fall. She has also organized a boycott of Nestlé’s products.”

Makasa and members of Six Nations are organizing the Putting a Stop to Nestle event on Saturday, November 24. See the Facebook event to learn how you can join or support.

During my trip to southern Ontario, I spoke at the event What do water, the Great Lakes and the election have in common? organized by the London chapter of the Council of Canadians to highlight the importance of water issues leading up to this past Monday’s municipal election.

London is on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Lenape, Attawandaron and Huron-Wendat peoples and at the forks of Deshkan Ziibi (Antler River).

London chapter’s co-chair Julie Picken-Cooper spoke to the audience about an initiative to make London a Blue Community and join nearly fifty communities around the world that have 1) banned or phased out phase out bottled water at municipal facilities or events 2) recognized the human rights to water and sanitation and 3) promoted public water services by opposing Public-Private Partnerships or water privatization.

I talked about my chapter about water in the new book Corporatizing Canada: Making Business Out of Public Service. In it, I write about the threat of Nestlé's bottled water takings, the privatization of water and trade agreements, and the need to implement the human right to water and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These issues show how frontline communities – like those fighting the commodification of water and promoting the Blue Communities Project – are our greatest hope for water justice.

(Photo: Waasekom, also known as Edward George, and Emma Lui talk about water issues at London event on October 17, 2018)

Waasekom (or Edward George), who is a water advocate, community organizer and ceremonial helper from the south eastern shoreline of Lake Huron, Saugeen First Nation, also spoke at the London event. He spoke about the initiative to designate legal personhood to the Great Lakes. Waasekom spoke about the inherent Life and Personhood of our great ancestor Lake Huron and the water.

Last year, New Zealand and India took bold steps to protect their rivers. New Zealand granted the Whanganui River the same legal rights as a human being. Days later, India legally recognized the Yamuna and Ganges rivers as “living entities.” These historic decisions recognize the importance of water and its undeniable links to nature and life. It is bold actions like this that will protect water for future generations.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report is a stark warning for the need to make swift and bold changes to environmental and water policies if we are to stave off drought and other extreme water events that threaten drinking water supplies and watersheds.

If I learned one thing from my trip it is that communities are are fired up and determined to protect water for communities and for ecosystems. Nestlé and other bottled water protects that commodify water are incompatible to protecting water for life and for future generations. I am deeply inspired by these communities working to protect the right to water and it is in these communities that will lead the fight against Nestle and water privatization and achieve water justice around the Great Lakes and beyond.

Learn more about the Boycott Nestle Campaign.

Note: The Blue Ribbon campaign started in the Site 41 fight where community members and water defenders wore and tied blue ribbons to trees, porches and car antennas to draw attention to the importance of water.