Sixteen water protector groups along with local residents, Indigenous representatives and activists attended the Water Is Life: Strengthening the Great Lakes Commons in Flint this past weekend. Attendees pledged to challenge Nestlé’s water takings and end the water crises in Flint, Detroit and Indigenous nations.
Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians presented the keynote speech on Friday evening to a crowd of more than 200 people at Woodside Church in Flint.
“The summit this past weekend was a powerful moment for water justice organizations, Great Lakes residents and Indigenous representatives. We came together to challenge the issues that our governments are failing to address,” said Barlow. “We renewed our commitment and outlined concrete steps to secure the human right to water and bring about water and social justice for all communities around the Great Lakes.”
People shared stories of violations of the human right to water – that echoed a similar message – water in communities around the Great Lakes is being put at risk by privatization and commodification.
Sylvia Plain, from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, near Sarnia, expressed that Indigenous nations have always kept their treaty promises but are still waiting for American and Canadian governments to reciprocate.
In her Saturday keynote, Claire McClinton of Flint Democracy Defense League told the crowd, “In Flint, Michigan, you can buy a gallon of lead free gas, or a gallon of lead free paint, but you can’t get a gallon of lead free water from your own tap.”
Nestlé Waters is the common face of water privatization in Ontario and Michigan. Summit participants expressed outrage that Nestlé to take water (cheaply) for private gain while Flint, Detroit, and Indigenous communities cannot rely on public systems or the government for clean water. The Ontario government is allowing the bottled water company to pump up to 4.7 million litres of water per day on two expired permits in Wellington County. Bottled water is used as short-term band-aid solutions to water crises in Flint, Detroit and Indigenous nations.
At the Summit conclusion, representatives of the sixteen water protection organization pledged to work together to protect water in their communities. Leading up to the Ontario provincial election next year, the Council of Canadians is calling on party leaders to commit to phasing out bottled water permits over the next ten years.