Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Book Review: To Be a Water Protector

To Be a Water Protector: The Rise of the Wiindigoo Slayers by Winona LaDuke

Fernwood Publishing, Published December 2020, 320 pages

Review by Joanne Coons

The book To Be a Water Protector explains the connections of water and our Earth systems. Simply put, healthy water means a healthy Earth. Author Winona LaDuke tells this story from the viewpoint of Algonquin mythology. The Ojibwe people of the Algonquin nation call a person who is a cannibal a Wiindigoo. The time of the Wiindigoo occurred during colonization of our country and Canada with the elimination of the Algonquin nation. In other words, we cannibalized their people and their land. LaDuke applies this concept to current practices that harm our water supplies. This harm might be through dam projects, pipelines, overfishing, ocean dumping, nuclear testing, or mining. One statement from the book that stuck with me was that there is more plastic in the ocean than fish.

LaDuke tells the back story of protecting our water is the basis for protecting our environment. Water is life, and our dependence on water is connected to all ecosystems.

Achieving the mission of the Water Protectors has been long and hard. Water Protectors are an actual organized group, not just a name given to someone who cares but a concerted effort of a defined group of people.

The Algonquin are the best people to tell this story, as they have been here the longest and have the best knowledge of the history of the land. It is unfortunate that the new inhabitants are devastating their ecosystems and don’t have the wisdom or knowledge of the Ojibwe nor are they willing to listen and learn from them.

LaDuke explains and gives examples of how we have failed to protect our water through examples of past and present legislation, poor decisions by judicial, legislative and executive branches and big business pushing through agendas regardless of the impact on the Earth and its water. The Water Protectors actively track, monitor and act through pen and physical protest as they see degradation of their precious resource. I was impressed with the depth and breadth of technical knowledge, philosophy, organization and planning of solutions to the problems and willingness to unselfishly give of their time and energy to defend water resources. After reading this book, one can only admire the bravery and heroism of the Water Protectors in a David-and-Goliath situation. Possibly this rang a bell with me as I was reading the book while the Russian invasion of Ukraine was happening. A group of people who are standing up and defending their precious land, all be it for another reason, but the end result is the same, destruction, degradation, displacement and harm to people and the environment.

Summarizing the problem, LaDuke cites past intertribal agreements such as the Great Peace of Montreal or the One Dish One Spoon Treaty. This treaty demonstrates how to live together in peace with nature. A quote from the book, “Those ancestors recognized all people eat out of the single dish, that is, all hunting in the shared territory. One spoon signifies that all peoples sharing the territory are expected to limit the game they take to leave enough for others and for the continued abundance and viability of the hunting grounds into the future.” This statement is the Algonquin version of Tragedy of the Commons and certainly relates to the failure to protect our water supply.

LaDuke utilizes history, description of the problem and logical solutions which makes one appreciate what the Water Protectors do. You may even feel compelled to become part of solution personally by acting locally to protect our most precious resource.

Joanne Coons teaches at Hudson Valley Community College, TEC-SMART facility teaching. Locally, Joanne advocates for sustainability as a member of the Town of Clifton Park’s GREEN (Government Re-Thinking Energy & Environment Now) and is active in NY-GEO and NYSES. Prior to her current endeavors, she taught high school science for 28 years.

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