Water protectors

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Camp Red Fawn at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests camps in North Dakota
Water protectors march in Seattle
Members of the "Light Brigade" assert their role as "Protectors" of the waters, during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests

Water protectors are activists, organizers, and cultural workers focused on the defense of the world's water and water systems. The water protector name, analysis and style of activism arose from Indigenous communities in North America, during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, that began in April, 2016, in North Dakota. However, the concept of protecting the water as a sacred duty is much older.[1] Water protectors are distinguished from other forms of environmental activists by this philosophy and approach that is rooted in an Indigenous cultural perspective that sees water and the land as sacred.[2]

From this perspective, the reasons for protection of water are older, more holistic, and integrated into a larger cultural and spiritual whole than in most modern forms of environmental activism which may be more based in seeing water and other extractive resources as commodities.[1] For the Anishinaabe, for example, water is associated with Mother Earth and water walker Josephine Mandamin has spoken of how it is the responsibility of grandmothers to lead other women in praying for and protecting the water.[3] After a prophecy from an elder, Mandamin led water walks, to pray and raise awareness, from 2000 until her death in 2019. Her peaceful actions inspired many to become water protectors.[4]


Water protectors have been involved in actions against construction of multiple pipelines, as well as other projects by the fossil fuel industries, and resource extraction activities such as fracking that can lead to the contamination of water.[5]

Actions have involved traditional direct actions like blockades on reserve lands and traditional territories to block corporations from engaging in resource extraction.[2] Water and land protectors have also created resistance camps as a way to re-occupy and refuse to give away their traditional territories. Usually part of these encampments, when led by Indigenous people, is a strengthening of cultural ties and traditions, with inclusion of activities like language revitalization.[6]

The Dakota Access Pipeline[edit]

Alton Gas[edit]

In May 2018 Mi'kmaq peoples in Nova Scotia blocked the Alton Gas company from extracting water from the Shubenacadie River for a natural gas project; the project was disrupting the natural balance between freshwater and seawater in the tidal region, and threatening the drinking water, fish and other water life of the region.[5]

Muskrat Falls[edit]

Action has also been taken across Canada, including Muskrat Falls hydro dam project in Labrador.[7][8]

Trans Mountain Pipeline[edit]

In Burnaby Mountain, actions have been taken over the Trans Mountain pipeline.[9]

Wet'suwet'en resistance camps[edit]

The Wet’suwet’en peoples have ongoing of resistance camps, including Unist’ot’en Camp and action against the construction of a Coastal GasLink pipeline in Northern British Columbia.[10]


Many water protectors are women.[11][12] In many Native American and FNIM cultures, women are seen to have a strong connection to water, the moon, and the cycles of the tide as they are able to become pregnant and give birth.[3] In Anishinaabe culture women perform ceremonies to honour water and water is considered to be alive and have a spirit.[13]

The water walks begun by Josephine Mandamin in the Great Lakes region continue to take place, and have spread worldwide, in an ongoing effort to raise visibililty.[14]

Well-known water protectors include: Autumn Peltier, Wikwemikong First Nation;[13][15][16] Josephine Mandamin, Marjorie Flowers, Inuk, Nunatsiavut, Labrador[17][18]


  1. ^ a b "Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, a 69 Year Old Who Walked Around the Great Lakes, Talks About the Water Docs International Festival - Shedoesthecity". Shedoesthecity. 2013-03-22. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  2. ^ a b "Standing Rock activists: Don't call us protesters. We're water protectors". Public Radio International. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  3. ^ a b "Meet Josephine Mandamin (Anishinaabekwe), The "Water Walker" | Mother Earth Water Walk". www.motherearthwaterwalk.com. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  4. ^ Staff, Expositor (2019-02-22). "Anishinabek Nation mourns the loss of Grandmother Water Walker Josephine Mandamin". Manitoulin Expositor. Retrieved 2019-10-19.
  5. ^ a b "Mi'kmaq water protectors blocking fossil fuel infrastructure in Nova Scotia | rabble.ca". rabble.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  6. ^ Rowe, James K (2017-10-09). "Lessons From the Frontlines of Anti-Colonial Pipeline Resistance" (PDF). escholarship.org. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  7. ^ "3 Labrador water protectors in St. John's jail over Muskrat Falls protest - APTN NewsAPTN News". aptnnews.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  8. ^ "Muskrat Falls Ecological Grief: Resistance became a "profound, unstoppable force," says researcher - APTN NewsAPTN News". aptnnews.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  9. ^ "Camp Cloud eviction deadline comes and goes as assistant fire chief pledges support for water protectors - APTN NewsAPTN News". aptnnews.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  10. ^ January 8th 2019, Rita Wong in Opinion | (2019-01-08). "We can all learn from Wet'suwet'en laws". National Observer. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  11. ^ "Women Warrior Water Protectors of DAPL". IndianCountryToday.com. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  12. ^ Aug 19, Lenard Monkman · CBC News · Posted:; August 19, 2017 6:00 AM ET | Last Updated:; 2017. "How art and spirituality are defining the 'water protectors' | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2019-01-10.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  13. ^ a b Mar 22, Melissa Kent · CBC News · Posted:; March 23, 2018 2:39 PM ET | Last Updated:; 2018. "Canadian teen tells UN to 'warrior up,' give water same protections as people | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2019-01-10.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  14. ^ Sep 23, Rhiannon Johnson · CBC News · Posted:; September 23, 2017 6:00 AM ET | Last Updated:; 2017. "'It's really very crucial right now': Great Lakes Water Walk focuses on protecting 'lifeblood' | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2019-01-10.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  15. ^ "Teen who scolded Trudeau to address UN". BBC News. 2017-12-31. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  16. ^ "Autumn Peltier up for Nobel children's prize - APTN NewsAPTN News". aptnnews.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  17. ^ Aug 29, Katie Breen · CBC News · Posted:; August 29, 2017 6:07 PM NT | Last Updated:; 2017. "Muskrat Falls protester Marjorie Flowers no longer under house arrest | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2019-01-10.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  18. ^ "Land protectors face criminal charges for defending water, food, culture – TheIndependent.ca". Retrieved 2019-01-10.