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Water security summit creates space to discuss indigenous rights

A water security summit was held in the University of Maine’s Buchanan Alumni House Saturday, Sept. 29, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The forum discussed grassroots action on water rights and security in Maine.

Summit attendees entering the Alumni House were met near the entrance by a woman offering to engage them in an indigenous ceremony known as “smudging,” which consists of burning sacred herbs and is used in some situations for spiritual cleansing or blessing.

Tara Houska of the Couchiching First Nation in Ontario, Canada, is a tribal attorney and environmental activist based in Washington D.C. She fights for indigenous rights and justice, serves as the national campaign director of Honor the Earth — a non-profit organization that supports environmental justice connected to indigenous groups — was an advisor on indigenous communities affairs to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and was one of the first people to speak at this forum.

“Maine is one of those examples, as an attorney, that it’s a completely different world when it comes to indigenous rights and when it comes to indigenous peoples and their relationship to the state,” Houska said. “We’re here to talk about water as life. We’re here to talk about the impacts and shared struggle that we have for water. Indigenous peoples are the current holders of 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity.”

Throughout the day, members from various organizations came and went, giving their opinion on the issues, leading discussions and raising questions about water security. All events were bound by a common theme: connection to Maine.

Michelle Sanborn is the president of the New Hampshire Community Rights Network and is also the New Hampshire community organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). She gave a presentation on the “Grassroots Movement for Community Rights and Rights of Nature” which focused on protecting people, communities and the environment.

Sherri Mitchell, a Native American rights attorney, teacher and activist was born and raised on the Penobscot Reservation on Indian Island in Old Town, Maine. She was the final guest speaker of the afternoon, giving a talk on what it means to be Penawahpskek. Mitchell is an activist and author of the book “Sacred Instruction: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change.” Mitchell is also the executive director of the Land Peace Foundation, an organization dedicated to the protection of indigenous land and water.

“Maine is blessed with a plentiful supply of water, but there are growing threats to the quality and quantity of our precious resource,” the Water Security Summit’s website stated. “To effectively address those threats, it’s imperative that concerned citizens and groups addressing water issues share information and coordinate efforts toward protecting our water resources.”

The afternoon offered opportunities for guests to break into small groups for “table talk” on the topic of water security, and provided a space for activists to share their ideas, information and accomplishments. An hour was also scheduled for lightning talks on broader water challenges in Maine, including discussions on topics such as the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Alton, Maine, led by Ed Spencer, and fish passage on Maine rivers, led by Landis Hudson.

You can find more information and sign up for email updates on the event’s website:

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