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Challenging limitations of settler colonialism

1 Decolonizing Anishinaabe

nibi inaakonigewin and gikendaasowin research

Decolonizing Anishinaabe nibi inaakonigewin and gikendaasowin research: reinscribing Anishinaabe approaches to law and knowledge

Aimee Craft, Deborah McGregor, Rayanna Seymour-Hourie and Sue Chiblow

Notes on Anishinaabemowin terminology

Aki: earth or creation

Anishinaabe (pi. Anishinaabek or Anishinaabeg): a person or the people, also in reference to Ojibwe, Chippewa, etc.

Anishinaabemowin: the language Anishinaabckweff. Anishinaabe women Gikendaasowin: knowledge(s)

Inaakonigewin: law Minobimaadiziwin: the good life Nibi: water Waazhuslv. muskrat


This chapter emanates from a series of discussions, some in person and others electronically, that have evolved over the last several years. Some of these discussions have taken place on the land and water, overseas in Aotearoa (or New Zealand) and at the annual Nibi Gathering in the Whiteshell, at a sacred petroform site called Manito Api (or Bannock Point) in Treaty' 3 territory. Brought together through a common passion for the water, deep community accountability and engagement in research through spirit, each of us reflects on key questions of importance to us as Anishinaabe ikwewag (women) researchers and our traditional roles as “keepers of the water”.[1] This role as keepers results from our sacred connection to the spirit of water. Our ability to bear children through the birth water we carry raises “particular responsibilities to protect and nurture water”.[2]

The work of ikwewag reclaiming their roles as keepers of the water is evident through the Mother Earth Water Walks, led by Grandmother Josephine Man- damin.[3] The Water Walks’ intent is to teach others the importance of nibi. The Walks began at Lake Superior in 2003 and have journeyed to each of the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence and through the four directions of ocean water, covering distances of over 1,000 km at a time.[4] [5] The goals of the Walks were to raise awareness of nibi by changing the perception of nibi as a resource to the acknowledgement of it as a spiritual entity.[3] Each of us has walked and/or worked for the water.

This brings us to Indigenous research and particularly the two areas of research each of us works with: inaakonigewin and gikendaasowin research relating to water. Research relating to Indigenous legal traditions and knowledge continues to be very much a colonial practice, reinscribing power imbalances between the academy and Indigenous communities and peoples through continued control over knowledge production, access and mobilization. Through our practice and scholarship, we explicitly challenge the dominant colonial narrative that aims to supersede community-based views on responsibilities and obligations that relate to ethical water relationships.

Collectively, we advocate for the utilization of an Anishinaabe research paradigm and methodologies, a distinct research approach rooted in Indigenous ontology, epistemology, axiology and knowledge systems. More specifically, we engage with Anishinaabeg theory and modes of inquiry, which emphasize responsibility-based research ethics practice. We argue this approach is ideally suited for working with Anishinaabeg nibi inaakonigewin (Anishinaabeg water law) at the community level.

Through our journeys, each of us has worked alongside Elders and knowledge- holders, and have worked for nibi, by walking for nibi and by participating in other forms of ceremony or through our participation in organizing water events (such as the Nibi Gathering) or through the development of laws and policy. Each of us incorporates our personal practice into our research pursuits, governed always in relational systems of accountability and responsibility. While none amongst us is a fluent language speaker, we know that Anishinaabe inaakonigewin and gikendaasowin flow directly from the language. Each of us is attempting to reclaim language as an important source and method of Anishinaabe inaako- nigewin and gikendaasowin. We also appreciate the role of ceremony and spirit in guiding not only the research we do, but also the ongoing obligations that we have with respect to nibi and all of creation.

We approached this chapter by identifying three areas to begin the conversation on decolonizing laws to better reflect Anishinaabeg understanding of inaa- konigewin, namely: language, land and Western influence on Indigenous values and structures. The topics covered below relate our winding journey(s) through our own Anishinaabe inaakonigewin and gikendaasowin reclamation.

We are of the view that thinking about inaakonigewin and gikendaasowin from an Anishinaabe perspective requires a critical reflection on our assumptions and the colonial baggage we import from our other sources of knowledge or training. In short, we are working to re-inscribe ourselves in the process of understanding our relationship with nibi. Correspondingly, we are aiming to provide pathways for decolonizing law and knowledge as it relates to water. This requires continuous self-reflection and an approach to the work we do with the spirit of humility, reciprocity and service to our nations and to nibi itself.

Нолу important is it to understand and speak Anishinaabemcnvin (our language) while working with Anishinaabe nibi inaakonigevvin?

RAYANNA: Language is part of the Anishinaabe way of life,[7] [8] and learning how to understand and speak anishinaabemowin contributes to our decolonization/ Anishinaabemowin holds a key to understanding our legal traditions more deeply. We are taught that the language safe-keeps “older ideas and narratives”,[9] it embeds our history, and it encompasses our collective memory as Anishinaabe.[10]

Elders say the language is “crucial” to a greater understanding of inaakonigewin, our laws and knowledge.[11] The work (or “research”) for nibi incorporates language practice and contributes to revitalization organically. For example, opportunities to gather on the land with Elders and community members who are knowledgeable in the language and our stories is at the foundation of this journey.[12]

Learning anishinaabemowin is an individual choice, since we all have “been given our own agency”.[13] We continue to be “the translators of the knowledge of our grandmothers”[14] as we continue to learn and spread the teachings as Anishi- naabekweg and as scholars.

А1МЁЕ: Blackfoot scholar Leroy Little Bear tells us that the Blackfoot language allows us to “think Blackfoot”.[15] Many of the Elders I have worked with throughout my life (including Anishinaabe, Cree, Dakota, Dene, Blackfoot and others) have said similar things. Elder D’Arcy Linklater (Nisichiwayasik Cree Nation) said to me many years ago that “the law is in the language”.[16] Elder Sherry Copenace (Ojibways of Onigaming) reminds me often that we should not seek to translate Anishinaabe words or concepts into English because they do not translate the intent or spirit that the Anishinaabemowin language expresses.[17] Elder Harry Bone reminds us that there are four levels of language including the language expressed through conversation, ceremony/prayer, spirit and dreams.[18]

Many of the instructions on how to live inaakonigewin (to live according to relationships meant to foster mino-biimaadiziiwin, or collective well-being) are contained in the language. We cannot undertake a deep exercise of Anishinaabe law without addressing linguistic and cultural disconnections. This is also why, in the Anishinaabe nibi inaakonigewin research and nibi gatherings, Elders have been engaged as a Faculty of Elders and knowledge holders,[19] who are versed in language, ceremony, culture and Anishinaabe way of life. The Faculty of Elders have the ability to transmit that knowledge to the people who engage in the wiigwaam teaching lodge of the nibi gatherings.

Younger generations that have not been raised in the language and who are not fluent display a gap in understanding. This is not necessarily of our own doing (see colonization, residential schools, assimilation, dislocation, discrimination, colonialism and racism); however, we are part of a generation that can reclaim the language. These acts of reclamation can be through technology, pedagogy and relationship, all of which are connected to reclamation of our laws. With active learning and immersion (doing the work), the concepts, teachings, values, norms and laws are within our grasp. This requires commitment on our part. While we become fluent again, ceremony and song help fill the void and help ensure our spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual well-being.

SUE: I have heard numerous times from Elders and Anishinaabemowin speakers the importance of learning our language. These Elders and speakers have stated that mino-bimaadiziwin is embedded in Anishinaabemowin. Learning Anishinaabemowin allows us to simultaneously learn a new way of looking at the world.[20]

Recently, Elder/language speaker Linda Toulouse explained that everything is alive in the language and understanding that gives us the understanding of our responsibilities.[21] Mary Ann Corbiere declares that Anishinaabemowin is descriptive and action based.[22] She also explains how there are several complexities in translating Anishinaabemowin into the English language, such as “in the types of connotations words convey”.[23] The fact that translation proves difficult and concepts are lost through translation makes gikendaasowin unique to the language speakers and learners. Without the benefit of knowing the language, scholars cannot get the heart and soul and spirit of a culture to truly understand Anishinaabe perceptions and interpretations.[24] It is therefore important to have at minimum a basic understanding of the language in order to understand our legal traditions.

I have heard language speakers state that gikendaasowin is in the language and comes from the land, meaning it is place based. For example, regional dialects exist because “vocabulary varies as you go from region to region”.[25] While hosting Gikendaasowin Gatherings, Elders and other participants spoke in the language to explain relationships and responsibilities to the lands. Without a basic understanding of the language, these stories and teachings would not be understood.

DEBORAH: Indigenous laws are held in different places/spaces, as well as in our language.[26] In other words, language is not the only place where legal orders are held and manifested. Indigenous languages, such as Anishi- naabemowin indeed, provide profound insights into what the legal orders mean. Every concept has layers and different meaning depending on the context. Direct translation does not serve Indigenous languages such as Anishinaabemowin well.

The importance of language cannot be underestimated. When working with Elders or knowledge keepers, we see that unspoken language matters as well. For example, there is the knowledge of the land/waters “as living entities] providing the central underpinnings for all life, the understanding of interconnected relationships”.[27] There is the knowledge that is conveyed in ceremony and other communal experiences in which all are silent. All beings in Creation speak a language, and it may not be a human language, but it exists. Silence and listening is as critical as speaking as evident in our Creation story:

Thought itself, in our creation, is what creates everything. The One, whoever that was in the darkness, who heard that sound, that energy-sound in that in-between place, the One from whom the first thought came. ... all of Creation emerged from that very first thought that arose from the that in-between place where that energy-sound came from. From out of thought- consciousness emerge.[28]

The same heartbeat that pulsed out from the centre of the Universe in the beginning (the Creator’s heartbeat) is the same rhythm, the same pulse, the same heartbeat that is given to the Anishinaabe.[29]

The Creator also gifted Anishinaabeg the breath of life and in doing so gave us spirit. Every time our heart beats, every time we take a breath, we are speaking the language of Creation. One can argue the language of nibi is held in our bodies, our blood, tears, sweat and womb. It is held in our spirit. Indeed, we may well be limited by lacking the ability to speak Anishinaabemowin, but there are other senses that also convey language and understanding. It is just as important to think about language as more than the spoken word, but held in every heartbeat, every breath, every body.

What is the importance of connection to land (and land-based practices) in understanding Anishinaabe inaakonigewin?

DEBORAH: To be Anishinaabeg is to be of the land. The Creation story conveys that “People are not only shaped by the land, but were also created from the land”, which means there is no separation of Anishinaabeg “from the land, identity, sense of place, and history”.[30] The human person is dien “of the earth and from the earth”.[5] Thus, because Anishinaabeg literally come from the land, “we are all relatives because we have the same mother”.[32] Edward Bcnton-Banai adds, “She is called Mother Earth because from her come all living things. Water is her life blood. It flows through her, nourishes her, and purifies her”.[33]

It is essential that Anishinaabeg live and practice Anishinaabeg legal traditions and recognize that “the whole of creation are relatives to the human being”.[34] In other words, Anishinaabeg legal traditions guide these relationships to live harmoniously with each other.[35] Furthermore, it may in fact not be entirely correct to think of all laws that govern our relationships to the land/waters as Anishinaabeg (our tendency to be human-centric), but of the Earth itself.[36] It is not possible to understand or practice Anishinaabeg laws without a connection to the Earth (as Dumont describes her), as we arc the law itself. One of the most powerful characteristics of the ontology' of Anishinaabeg legal orders is that it dissolves the binary between human/nature or environment. All beings/entities and humans make up the whole of Creation.

SUE: One version of the Anishinaabe Creation story describes how humans were created last and all other beings created are our older brothers and sisters that guide and sustain us as the babies of Creation. This directly links us to the lands in which we were born, making legal traditions based from the lands.

Many laws come from the land by teaching us behaviours, which is a form of governance. One component of Anishinaabe governance is based on the clan system directly linking us to the lands.[37] Our Anishinaabeg ancestors relied on the lands to survive. They had to observe everything happening on the lands, and this connection provided them with gikendaasowin about legal traditions. Kathleen (Minogiizhigokwe) Absolon explains that gikendaasowin lives in the animals, birds, land, plants, trees and Creation, who happen to be our original teachers, which makes our philosophies earth centred.[38]

In many ceremonies, I have been given visions or shown things without any language exchange. These visions are a connection to the land as they give me knowledge on relationships to the lands. Traditional knowledge keepers have advised that the connection to the lands comes also from ceremony.

Once, I participated in a sunrise ceremony where it was reiterated that everything we need is given to us by the lands, the waters, the sky world and the animals. Learning to bizindam (listen) to all of life’s beings is key to understanding and gaining gikendaasowin about legal traditions. Whether I am paddling on the water, harvesting from the lands or simply visiting the bush, I am constantly familiarizing myself with “and listening deeply to the language of the land”.[39] It is the earth and the sky world that has provided Anishinaabe with teachings; it is the clan system that has provided us with gikendaasowin about our relationships with the lands and all life.

I remember hearing an Elder state that the land is the law and Anishinaabeg are the land, so therefore Anishinaabeg are the law.

RAYANNA: Connection with land is key to understanding legal traditions. Embodying our teachings includes working with Elders on our homelands,[40] as there is no separation between the land, Anishinaabe identity, sense of place and history.


Connecting to land is essential in understanding legal traditions, which is illustrated through our Nibi Gatherings. Participating in kinship, relationship making, sitting with the sacred fire, visiting by and with the river, listening and witnessing the thunderbirds (hincsiiyag) above us, while also sounding our voices to honour the land and nibi is practicing our legal traditions. Removing ourselves from the intellectual traditions we learned in Western education is done by connecting with land in this way because gathering on the land is in “an Indigenous context using Indigenous processes”.[41]

On both an individual and community level, striving for strong connections to our lands contributes to our well-being in the “physical, social, cultural, environmental, emotional, and spiritual” senses.[42] Unfortunately, due to settler colonialism, not everyone is connected to their homelands. Yet, everyone is connected to some form of Indigenous land and territory. This means connecting to land in order to understand legal traditions can happen on territories that are not one’s homelands.

Thus, although connecting to one’s homelands in order to understand one’s own legal traditions is essential, starting (or continuing) the learning journey in building relationship with Mother Earth can be achieved anywhere. Building relationship can be done in a variety of ways. For example, learning some of the local Indigenous peoples’ stories, learning words from the local languages to describe their landscape and waterways, gathering in community and connecting with other Indigenous relatives are all good ways to strengthen relationship with the land one is visiting on and living off of.

А1МЁЕ: To begin, I want to problematize the distinction between land and water.[43] Often we hear teachings that identify the earth as our mother, the waterways as her veins that carry her sacred life blood. These types of reflections are often invoked in the context of contesting natural resource extraction and industrialization that is impacting lands and waters. They artificially divide land and water as two parts of creation with whom we have particular relationships, rather than considering creation as a whole.[44] This reinforces the Western compartmentalization of resources (timber, minerals, petroleum) and allows for the purchase and exploitation of them, despite impacts on other parts of creation (including what are regarded to be lands and waters). I view this as pragmatic re-visioning of teachings that were originally intended to illustrate that we should be in relationships with all of creation. These relationships are multidimensional and provide for our well-being. Water and land as part of that creation are not separate but rather part of one whole, one creation:

The Great Spirit instructed us to honor all of life and to respect all of Creation. He gave us laws that govern all our relationships, to live in harmony with Creation and with humankind. We are spiritually and culturally obliged to have in our interest, the total well being of this Earth, this Creation, and the people.[45]

I will use clay pots that our ancestors used to make as an illustration of this intimate interconnection between land and water and ourselves.[46] Over an extended period of time, the water pounded rocks to break them down into clay form. We then used that clay to build pots. We dried and heated those pots at high temperatures to remove all water from them to return them to a solid form (pottery firing). We then filled them with water and food and cooked over a fire to feed ourselves. We buried them in the earth of locations we would return to, so that they would not freeze and crack. When the pots broke, we returned them to the earth and the water as an offering.

In anishinaabemowin, the word for clay is waszhish’ke.[47] Clay thus recognizes and remembers the role of waazhusk (the muskrat)[48] in Anishinaabe creation stories. Waazhusk sacrificed hcr/himself and dove down in the water after the Great Flood to grab a small handful of clay to help rebuild the land.[49] While the muskrat lives primarily in the water, it also lives on land, which deepens its connection to both.

Collaborative learning relationships between non-human beings and humans have resulted in customary law, developed over generations and centuries between us and the rest of creation (including animals, the land and the water). There are many things we can learn being on, in and with water and land. By observing interactions between other beings amongst themselves and all of creation, we have learned to model our relationships. These deeply intimate and interconnected relationships between parts of creation include the earth and water and cannot be compartmentalized as easily as they may be in a colonial context.

When working with Indigenous legal traditions, xve risk replicating Western legal values and structures.

Hoxv do you avoid that when xvorking with Anishinaabe nibi inaakonigewin?

А1МЁЕ: First I would ask: What is Anishinaabe law? In response, we can easily find ourselves drawing comparisons with Western legal traditions. It is often easier, or tidier, to be aligned with what is identifiable as law from a Western perspective, where sources are written, codified and reported. In Western legal systems, even convention makes its way into historical documentation and common knowledge.

In the classroom, it is often easier to revert to teaching Indigenous laws through contrasting, comparing and building on Western legal theories with accessible materials. Often, this proved to be the fastest and less turbulent route to having law students understand Indigenous normative values as law.[50] While it may allow us to more easily explain Anishinaabe concepts, structures, processes and normative obligations to those who do not live and breathe that law, there is a risk of replicating values and structures that are not inherent to Anishinaabe law. In turn, this can impact and distort the form and substance of Anishinaabe law. The same is true for other Indigenous legal traditions, framed, modeled, contrasted and integrated into Western modes of thinking, conceptualizing and analyzing.

Thinking of Western legal orders as a point of direct comparison is problematic because Indigenous laws are derived from different sources and are framed through profoundly different structures. They are also meant to achieve very different goals. For example, what we describe in Anishinaabemowin (the Anishinaabe language) as inaakonigewin is not a set of rules but rather an illustration of what is available to us, what may be taken up as responsibilities in order to live well together in relationship with one another. This includes not only the relationships and well-being of human beings but with all beings that are part of Creation. These relationships exist between all beings that are part of creation, in a variety of permutations and according to a system of generalized reciprocity.[51]

I have often told the story that led to my Anishinaabe legal “a-ha” moment. It’s the story of my Mishomis guiding my father and me (and our boat) into a rock on the Winnipeg River. By pointing towards a rock, my father directed the boat into/over it. My Mishomis later explained his action of pointing as indicating what was there, rather than telling us to go there.[19] Rather than an act of interference with my father’s agency, he was enabling him to make informed decisions for our collective well-being.

This non-interfering framework of relationality, deeply respectful of individual autonomy and agency, is exactly what I fear we might lose sight of (at least in part) by framing Indigenous laws in Western legal spheres of rights and obligations aimed at preserving individual interests that are related to the protection of private property. Western systems tell us what to do. They do not accept that, as humans, we are often not the final decision makers in the legal reasoning world. Whereas Anishinaabe inaakonigewin often requires placing trust in relationships with others, including trust in Kije-Manito or spirits to determine outcomes. We are often dependent on our natural environment and other beings in creation to show us law, which help us reflect on how we must replicate those responsibilities in our human relationships.[53]

I often think to that day on the river, and that rock, and how something greater than my Mishomis, my father or myself was at work. This experience led me to my understanding of what Anishinaabe inaakonigewin ultimately offers us, which I attempt to understand and live on a daily basis.

DEBORAH: There is very much a risk that by engaging in and conducting research in relation to Indigenous legal traditions, that we replicate Western colonial legal systems. The main challenge many scholars have, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, is that the majority of their formal training is in Western legal systems and then they decide to research Indigenous legal traditions. Their grounding in Indigenous legal traditions is not within an Indigenous context until later in life. In fact, many learn by reading about Indigenous laws rather than experiencing and learning from the practitioners. The frame of reference remains firmly entrenched in Western legal systems, not Indigenous systems. As an emerging area of scholarship in the academic sense, there is an overwhelming inclination to make Indigenous legal traditions palatable to the more powerful, institutionally and politically legal systems. This is best expressed by Mohawk Professor Emeritus Marlene Brant Castellano in commenting about the distance between academia and lived experience in Indigenous intellectual traditions:

What aboriginal and non-Aboriginal writers have in common is a degree of distance from the everyday practices or an oral culture. They arc also insulated from the discipline imposed on purveyors of knowledge in an oral culture - that is - from the collective analysis and judgement of a community, each of whose members share equal authority to interpret reality. Immunity from corrective influence renders suspect any outsider interpreting insider knowledge and, indeed any writer whether a member of the community or not. Writing things up gives authority to a particular view and a particular writer.[54]

We need to ask different questions of Indigenous laws and not the same kinds of questions that would be asked of Western legal orders. The effect is to literally “box in” Indigenous legal traditions into preconceived legal paradigms. There is a failure to recognize that Indigenous legal orders may indeed be of a qualitatively different order and were intended to serve Indigenous societies and their kin (water, animals, plants, etc.) and have done so for thousands of years.

One of the greatest challenges is that non-Indigenous systems of understanding law exclude the non-human. It is people who hold court, argue cases, research law and so forth. Indigenous legal traditions recognize the agency of other beings/teachings/relatives in generating, practicing and adjudicating law.[55] This constitutes a major worldview and ontological difference. Not all legal orders are meant to be shared broadly (e.g. spiritual laws). There are of course risks of romanticizing Indigenous legal traditions and freezing them in time (the “good old days”) despite the indications that they were adaptive, transformative and continually deliberated.[56]

RAYANNA: Due to the laws and policies meant to diminish our relationship with the land and water (either directly or indirectly),[57] what is left is this lasting residue of trauma which calls for a journey to healing.[58] When learning inaa- konigewin (our stories, songs and protocols), it is an act of resistance, part of our decolonization and healing process as it strengthens our relationships with ourselves, nibi, our Elders, each other and all of creation.

In our work, we resist compartmentalization; instead we view everything (including our work, life, culture, bodies and lands) as a whole.[59] We recognize that working with our legal traditions is not simply an “intellectualizing project”,[60] but it is “a way of life”.[61] It is a way of life that has shown us that we are “not only shaped by the land, but we [are] also created for the land”[62] and “of the land”.[63] There stems an obligation to have a good relationship with nibi and contribute to nibi’s healing (which ultimately contributes to our own healing).

I recognized the power nibi had in my own healing in my first year of law school. I struggled with the realization that my inherent rights as Anishinaabe were being defined, infringed and justifiably extinguished by non-Indigenous peoples.[64] I sought and maintained my balance, my mino-bimaadiziwin, by strengthening my relationship with nibi through seeking out our stories, songs and language.

Thus, the goal as learners (rather than researchers), when learning Anishinaabe nibi inaakonigewin, is to, in Elder Allan White’s words: “embed these ideas instead of (simply) writing everything down”.[65] Ultimately, there is no separation between our research, our Anishinaabe communities and our lives. Viewing everything as a whole ensures that we are strengthening our laws by continuing to live our mino-bimaadiziwin.

SUE: In all things that we do as Anishinaabeg peoples, offerings come first. An offering is a gift, an act of responsibility and a gesture of relationship between people and other entities, given in the interest of creating ties, honoring them or asking for assistance and direction.[66] To avoid replicating Western legal systems values and structures, Anishinaabeg can follow the footsteps of our ancestors by remembering that offerings come first.

Settler cultures have been less attentive to the relationship between humans and nibi and mainstream society typically sees nibi as a resource or a commodity, in


stark contrast to its treatment in Anishinaabeg law. Understanding the differences in two worldviews allows individuals to be consistent with Anishinaabeg laws, principles and process. Western legal systems values and structures are based on control and ownership contrasting Anishinaabe nibi inaakonigewin, which is based on five Rs: relationship, respect, reciprocity, responsibility and reflection.[67]

The Oxford Dictionary defines water (nibi) as “a colorless transparent odourless tasteless liquid compound of oxygen and hydrogen”.[68] Linton explains that “HiO consists of an oxide of hydrogen FLO or (FLO)* in the proportion of 2 atoms of hydrogen to one atom of oxygen and is an odourless, tasteless” compound.[69] These definitions and understandings flow against Anishinaabe gikend- aasowin, as nibi is alive with responsibilities to life. This is the basic difference between colonial ontology and Anishinaabe ontology, as Blackstock (2001) explains: “water is a meditative medium, a purifier, a source of power and most importantly has a spirit”.[70] McGregor (2001) reinforces the Anishinabek ontology by reiterating that “water is life” and is considered “a living-entity”.[71] Several articles also state that the nibi is life; the nibi is sacred; nibi is alive with a spirit. The difference between colonial ontology and Anishinaabe ontology is


understanding what nibi is, the basis of how peoples manage, understand and exist with nibi. Yazzie and Baldy (2018) reiterate that nibi is not a resource to be used by corporations but is a relative[72] [73] adding to Anishinaabe ontology. Daigle (2018) discusses the need for regenerating nibi relations, confirming that nibi is a relative to Indigenous peoples.73 The colonial understanding of what “water” is stands in opposition to Anishinaabe understandings. Anishinaabe know that nibi can manage itself, contrasting the colonial position that humans can manage nibi.


While Western legal thought might equate this responsibility to jurisdiction, Anishinaabe inaakonigewin encourages us to reflect on responsibilities as diffused in a web of multiple legal interactions, some of which we are aware of, some not, and through which we are all somehow affected. This allows us to think and act according to multiple senses, including spirited knowledge. It also allows us to value gendered pedagogies as relevant to teaching and learning about responsibilities to nibi.

Such gendered pedagogies relating to our responsibilities to nibi include the Water Declaration of the Anishinaabe[g], Mushegowuk and Onkwehonwe in Ontario, which states that “the Anishinaabefg], Mushegowuk and Onkwehonwe women are keepers of nibi as women bring babies into the world carried on by the breaking of the water”.[74] The Water Walks have raised this awareness of women’s special relationship with nibi and the responsibility to nibi.[75] Craft (2014) and Anderson (2010) have quoted Elders who reiterate women have a special connection to nibi, as women have the ability to give birth through the waters.[76] McGregor (2001) also explains the responsibility women have to the waters by sharing information about the “Akii Kwe: Anishinaabe women who speak for the water”.[77] The Chiefs of Ontario Report on the First Nations Water Policy Forum (2008a) has several quotes from participants stating that women have a special responsibility to nibi and are the “water keepers.[78] This special relationship that ikweyag have with nibi needs to be transmitted to the world as more women are picking up their responsibilities and protecting nibi.

While men also carry responsibilities and are responsible to look after our mothers, we are becoming the next generation of mothers and grandmothers that will give effect to those sacred responsibilities. We, as Anishinaabekweyag, are engaged in honouring nibi because it is part of our individual and collective wholeness, which in turn brings us balance and healing.[79] Recognizing our role as ikweyag in healing nibi centres around “califing] better futures into being”.[80] We want our nieces, daughters, sisters and granddaughters to know their responsibility to nibi and nibi’s responsibility to each of them as a reciprocal relationship that necessitates caring. The work will continue for years to come and will take many forms over time. Ultimately, this movement of caring for and being in relationship with water (as gifted to us through our inaakonigewin and responsibilities) is meant to build strong communities for ourselves, our families and for future generations[81] while also contributing to nibi’s sustainability.[82]

2 Statehood, Canadian

  • [1] Kate Cave & Shianne McKay, “Nibi Song: Indigenous Women and Nibi” (2012) 7:6 Solutions] 64-73; Km Anderson, Aboriginal Women, Water and Health: Reflections from Eleven FirstNations, Inuit, and Metis Grandmothers (Halifax and Winnipeg: Atlantic Centre of Excellencefor Women’s Health Sc Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence, 2010); Deb Danard,“Be the Water” (2015) 30:2/3 Canadian Woman Studies 115; Sheri Longboat, “First NationWater Security: Security for Mother Earth” (2015) 30:2/3 Canadian Woman Studies.
  • [2] See Aimce Craft, “Giving and Receiving Life from Anishinaabe Nibi Inaakonigewin (Our WaterLaw) Research” in Jocelyn Thorpe et al., eds., Methodological Challenges in Nature-Cultureand Environmental History Research (New York: Routledge, 2016) at 109 [Craft, “Lite”];Cave & McKay, supra note 1; Kim Anderson, Barbara Clow & Margaret Haworth-Brockman,“Carriers ofWater: Aboriginal Women’s Experiences, Relationships and Reflections” (2013)60 / of Cleaner Prod 11.
  • [3] See Deborah McGregor, “Indigenous Women, Water Justice and Zaagidowin (Love)” (2015)30:2/3 Canadian Woman Studies71 [McGregor, “Zaagidowin”].
  • [4] Ibid, at 2, 3, 71-78.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] See Deborah McGregor, “Indigenous Women, Water Justice and Zaagidowin (Love)” (2015)30:2/3 Canadian Woman Studies71 [McGregor, “Zaagidowin”].
  • [7] Tobasonakwut Knew, “‘Let Them Burn the Sky’: Overcoming Repression of the Sacred Use ofAnishinaabe Lands” in Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair and Warren Cariou, eds., Manitowapow:Aboriginal Writings from the Land and Nibi (Winnipeg: HighWater Press, 2011) 142 at 145.
  • [8] Brock Pitawanakwat, “Strategies and Methods for Anishinaabemowin Revitalization” (2018)74:3 Can Modern Language Rev 461 at 461. Pitawanakwat uses “mitigate colonial affects”rather than decolonization.
  • [9] Margaret Noori, “Beshaabiiag G’gikenmaaigowag: Comets of Knowledge” in Jill Doerfler,Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair Sc Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, eds., Centering Anishinaabeg Studies: Understanding the World through Stories (East Lansing: Michigan StateUniversity Press, 2013) 35 at 36 [Centering Anishinaabeg Studies}.
  • [10] Lindsay Keegitah Borrows, Otter’s Journey through Indigenous Language and Law (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018) at 127.
  • [11] Basil Johnston, as cited in Roger Spielmann, ‘You’re So Fat’: Exploring Ojibwe Discourse(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998) at 234.
  • [12] See Aimee Craft, Anishinaabe Nibi Inaakonigewin Report: Reflecting the Water Laws ResearchGathering conducted with Anishinaabe Elders June 20-23,2013 at Roseau River, Manitoba(CHRR/PILC, 2014) [Craft, “Nibi Report”]. Examples of gathering on the land includethe “Nibi Gathering” that started in 2013 and continue annually in the spring; and the Gik-endaasowin Gatherings held July 2017 to January 2018.
  • [13] Keegitah Borrows, supra note 9 at 27.
  • [14] Lee Maracle, 1 Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism (Vancouver:Press Gang, 1996) at 40.
  • [15] Leroy Little Bear, “Jagged Worldviews Colliding” in Marie Battiste, ed., Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2000) at 77.
  • [16] D’Arcy Linklater, Harry Rone, and the Treaty & Dakota Elders of Manitoba with Contributions by the AMC Council of Elders, KA’ESI WA HKOTUMA HK ASKI, Our Relations withthe Land: Treaty Elders’ Teachings, Vol. 2 (Winnipeg: Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba & Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Secretariat, 2014) at 11.
  • [17] Personal Communication with Sherry Copenace, Elder from Ojibways of Onigaming (n.d.)at Winnipeg, MB.
  • [18] Personal Communication with Harry Bone, Elder from Keeseekoowenin First Nation (n.d.)at Winnipeg, MB.
  • [19] Craft, “Nibi Report” supra note 11.
  • [20] Patricia Ningewance, Talking Gookom’s Language: Learning Ojibwe (Winnipeg: MazinaatePress, 2007) at xvii.
  • [21] Personal communication with Linda Toulouse, Elder from Anishinabek of Sagamok (28November 2018) at Traditional Ecological Knowledge Elders Gathering in Sagamok, ON.
  • [22] Mary Ann Corbiere, “Aanish go naa gaa-nendmaanh” in Alan Corbiere, Deborah McGregor &Crystal Migwans, eds., AnishinaabmnNiish: Culture movements, CriticalAfot»e»»(M’Chigeeng:Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, 2011) 67 at 76.
  • [23] Ibid, at 78.
  • [24] Basil Johnston, “Is That All There Is? Tribal Literature” in Doertler, Sinclair & Stark, eds.,“Centering Anishinaabeg Studies” supra note 8, 3 at 5.
  • [25] Ningewance, supra note 19 at xvii.
  • [26] See generally, John Borrows, Canada’s Indigenous Constitution (Toronto: University ofToronto Press, 2010); Craft, “Nibi Report” supra note 11.
  • [27] In this sense, knowledge and laws can come directly from the Land and Waters (and by thisI mean all of Creation). As expressed by Indigenous scholar Sandra Styres & Dawn Zinga,“The Community-First Land-Centred Theoretical Framework: Bringing a ‘Good Mind’ toIndigenous Education Research? Sharing Our Journey” (2013) 36:2 Canadian Journal ofEducation 284 at 62.
  • [28] Jim Dumont, Indigenous Intelligence (Sudbury: University of Sudbury, 2006) at 5.
  • [29] Ibid, at 7.
  • [30] Ibid, at 36.
  • [31] Ibid.
  • [32] Ibid, at 12.
  • [33] Edward Benton-Banai, The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway (Hayward: Indian Country Communications, 1988) at 2.
  • [34] Dumont, supra note 27 at 12.
  • [35] See Borrows, supra note 25; Craft “Nibi Report” supra note 11; McGregor, “Zaagidowin”supra note 3.
  • [36] Earth in this sense, in a similar vein to Styres and Zinga, according to Dumont, supra note27 at 12, to think of our relationship to the Earth as “The Universe is said to be a family -Grandfather Creator, Grandmother Moon, Mother Earth. . . . The world is permeated withlife-force, spiritual energy and with conscious purposeful beings. The human being is personally related to the environment, the landscape and the forces all around”. The Earth herselfis living, breathing, conscious being, complete with heart/feeling, sottl/spirit, and physical/organic life, as it is with all the relatives of Creation”.
  • [37] The clan system linking us as Anishinaabeg to the lands comes from many ceremony teachings. See for example: Quill Christie-Peters, “Anishinaabe art-making as falling in love:Reflections on artistic programming for urban Indigenous youth.” (MA Thesis, UniversityofVictoria, 2017).
  • [38] Kathleen (Minogiizhigokwe) Absolon, Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know (Halifax &Winnipeg: Fernwood, 2011) at 31.
  • [39] Melissa Nelson, “The Hydromythology of the Anishinaabeg” in Doerfler, Sinclair & Stark,eds., “Centering Anishinaabeg Studies” supra note 8, 213 at 216.
  • [40] Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “Land as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and RebelliousTransformation” (2014) 3:3 Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society at 17 [Land asPedagogy],
  • [41] Simpson, “Land as Pedagogy” supra note 39 at 9.
  • [42] Tobias, supra note 40 at 26.
  • [43] Aimec Craft, “Navigating Our Ongoing Sacred Legal Relationship with Nibi (Water)” inJennifer Goyder et al., eds., UNDRIP Implementation: More Reflections on the Braiding ofInternational, Domestic and Indigenous Laws Special Report (Saskatoon: Centre for International Governance Innovation & Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp, 2018) 53 [Craft “Navigating”].
  • [44] Ibid. (UNDRIP Special Report).
  • [45] Jim Dumont, “Seven Principles of Anishinaabe First Nationhood, Anishinaabe Izhichigay-win” in Lea Foushee and Renee Gurneau, eds., Sacred Water: Water for Life (Lake Elmo:North American Water Office, 2010) at 15 [Dumont, “Seven Principles”].
  • [46] With many thanks to my friend КС Adams (visual artist), who has taught me about traditional clay methods and who has brought those teachings to all people at the annualNibi Gathering. See further “Clay-KC Adams” (24 March 2018) YouTube, online: .
  • [47] Personal communications, Allan White, Elder from Noatkamegwanning First Nation, ON atWinnipeg, MB; and Sherry Copenace, Elder from Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation, ONat Winnipeg, MB.
  • [48] Ibid. (Allan & Sherry personal communication), where they shared waszhish’ke for waazhusk(muskrat) and aki (earth or creation).
  • [49] Benton-Benai, supra note 32 at 32-33; Basil Johnston, Honour Earth Mother: Mino-audjaudanhMizzu-kummik-quae (Cape Croker Reserve: Kegedonce Press, 2003) at 5.
  • [50] See Aaron Mills, “The Lifeworlds of Law: On Revitalizing Indigenous Legal Orders Today”(2016) 61:4 RD McGill 847.
  • [51] See AimCe Craft, Breathing Life into the Stone Fort Treaty: An Anishinaabe Understanding ofTreaty One (Saskatoon: Purich, 2013) [Craft, “Breathing Life”].
  • [52] Craft, “Nibi Report” supra note 11.
  • [53] Craft, “Navigating” supra note 43 at 54.
  • [54] Marlene Brant Castellano, “Updating Aboriginal Traditions of Knowledge” in GeorgeDei, Budd Hall & Dorothy Golden Rosenberg, eds., Indigenous Knowledges in GlobalContexts (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000) 21 at 32. Her observation isclearly evident in contemporary Indigenous scholarship, in which problematic ideologiesdominate the intellectual landscape without any debate, discussion and dissention (dissen-tion can also be productive). Castellano points out the “corrective influence” necessaryfor rigor is absent.
  • [55] Robin W. Kimmerer, “The Fortress, the River and the Garden: A New Metaphor for Cultivating Mutualistic Relationship between Scientific and Traditional Ecological Knowledge”in Kelley Young & Dan Longboat, eds., Contemporary Studies in Environmental and Indigenous Pedagogies: A Curricula of Stories and Places (Rotterdam: Sense, 2013); Kyle Whyte,“Indigenous Climate Change Studies: Indigenizing Futures, Decolonizing the Anthropo-cene” (2017) 55:1/2 English Language Notes 153.
  • [56] See further Val Napoleon, “Thinking about Indigenous Legal Orders,” Research paperprepared for the National Centre for First Nations Governance (2007); John Borrows, Canada’s Indigenous Constitution (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010).
  • [57] Brock Pitawanakwat, “Anishinaabeg Studies: Creative, Critical, Ethical, and Reflexive” inDoerfler, Sinclair & Stark, eds., “Centering Anishinaabeg Studies” supra note 8, 363 at 368.
  • [58] See generally, Renee Linklater, Decolonizing Trauma Work: Indigenous Stories and Strategies(Winnipeg: Fernwood, 2014).
  • [59] Christie-Peters, supra note 36.
  • [60] Brent Debassige, “Re-conceptualizing Anishinaabe Mino-Bimaadiziwin (the Good Life)as Research Methodology: A Spirit-Centered Way in Anishinaabe Research” (2010) 33:1CJNE 11 at 16.
  • [61] Craft, “Nibi Report” supra note 11 at 8 (quoting Nawaa’kamigowinini).
  • [62] Dumont, “Seven Principles” supra note 45 at 36.
  • [63] Craft, “Breathing Life” supra note 51 at 94.
  • [64] See for example, R v Sparrow, [1990] 1 SCR 1075.
  • [65] Craft, “Nibi Report” supra note 11 at 7.
  • [66] Jill Doerfler, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair & Heid Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, “Bagijige:Making an Offering” in Doerfler, Sinclair & Stark, eds., “Centering Anishinaabeg Studies”supra note 8, xv.
  • [67] See generally, Robin Wall Kimmerer, braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, ScientificKnowledge and the Teachings of Plants (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013); Jo-AnneArchibald, Indigenous Storywork: Educating the Heart, Mind, Body, and Spirit (Vancouver, UBC Press, 2008); Nicole Bell, “Anishinaabe Bimmaadiziwin: Living Spiritually withRespect, Relationship, Reciprocity, and Responsibility” in A. Kulnieks, D. R. Longboat &K. Young, eds., Contemporary Studies in Environmental and Indigenous Pedagogies (Rotterdam: Sense, 2013); Doertler, Sinclair & Stark, “Bagijige: Making an Offering” supra note67; Craft, “Nibi Report” supra note 11; Aimee Craft, “Nibi onje biimaadiiziiwin” (March/April 2017) 17:2 Water Canada: The Complete Water Magazine 16 at 16 [Craft, “Nibi onjebiimaadiiziiwin”].
  • [68] A. Bisset, Oxford Canadian Dictionary (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2004) at 17.
  • [69] Jamie Linton, What Is Water? The History of a Modern Abstraction (Vancouver: UBC Press,2010) at 20.
  • [70] Michael Blackstock, “Water: A First Nations’ Spiritual and Ecological Perspective” (2001)1:1 f of Ecosystems and Management 2 at 21.
  • [71] Chiefs of Ontario, “Drinking Water in Ontario First Nation Communities: Present Challenges and Future Directions for On-Reserve Water Treatment in the Province of Ontario”in Deborah McGregor et al., eds., Part II Submissions to the Walkerton Inquiry Commission (2001) at 21, online: [COO, “Walkerton Inquiry”].
  • [72] See further, Melanie K. Yazzie & Kutcha Risling Baldy, “Introduction: Indigenous Peoplesand the Politics ofWater” (2010) 7 Decolonization: Indijjeneity, Education & Society 1.
  • [73] See further Michelle Diagle, “Resurging through Kishiichiwan: The Spatial Politics oflndig-enous Water Relations” (2018) 7:1 Decolonization: Indijjcncity, Education & Society 159.
  • [74] Chiefs of Ontario, Media Release, “Water Declaration of the Anshinabek, Mushkegowukand Onkwehonwe” (October 2008) COO at 1, online: [COO Water Declaration],
  • [75] Josephine Mandamin, “Foreword: Water Is Life” in Dayna Nadine Scott, ed., Our ChemicalSelves: Gender, Toxics, and Environmental Health (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2015) xi at xiii.
  • [76] McGregor, “Zaagidowin” supra note 3; Craft, “Nibi Report” supra note 11.
  • [77] COO, “Walkerton Inquiry” supra note 73 at 18. See further Anderson, supra note 1; Craft“Nibi Report” supra note 11; McGregor, “Zaagidowin” supra note 3.
  • [78] COO Water Declaration, supra note 76.
  • [79] Dumont, “Seven Principles” supra note 45 at 34-35.
  • [80] Danika Medak-Saltzman, “Coming to You from the Indigenous Future: Native Women,Speculative Film Shorts, and the Art of the Possible” (2017) 29:1 Studies in Amer IndianLit 139 at 164.
  • [81] Debassige, supra note 60 at 12.
  • [82] Deborah McGregor, “Traditional Knowledge and Nibi Governance: The Ethic of Responsibility” (2014) 10:5 Alternative: An Inti J of Indigenous Peoples 493 at 496.
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