Water protectors

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Oceti Sakowin encampment 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, which began with an encampment on LaDonna Brave Bull Allard’s land in April, 2016.[1][2] 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.[3]

Some Water Protectors say that 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.[4] For example, water walker Josephine Mandamin of the Anishinaabe has said that water is associated with Mother Earth and spoke of the responsibility of grandmothers to lead other women in praying for and protecting the water.[5] 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.[6]


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.[7]

Actions have involved traditional direct actions like blockades on reserve lands and traditional territories to block corporations from engaging in resource extraction.[3] 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.[8] [9]

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.[7]

Muskrat Falls[edit]

Action has also been taken across Canada, including Muskrat Falls hydro dam project in Labrador.[10][11]

Trans Mountain Pipeline[edit]

In Burnaby Mountain, thousands have staged demonstrations opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline.[12][13]

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 and the heavily militarized RCMP, in Northern British Columbia.[14]


Many water protectors are women.[15][16] 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.[5] In Anishinaabe culture women perform ceremonies to honour water and water is considered to be alive and have a spirit.[17]

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 visibility.[18]

Well-known water protectors include: Autumn Peltier (of the Wikwemikong First Nation);[17][19][20] Peltier's aunt Josephine Mandamin, Marjorie Flowers, Inuk, Nunatsiavut, Labrador.[21][22]


  1. ^ Today, Indian Country. "LaDonna Brave Bull Allard 'changed history'". Indian Country Today. Retrieved 2021-04-15.
  2. ^ LeQuesne, Theo (2019-04-03). "Petro-hegemony and the matrix of resistance: What can Standing Rock's Water Protectors teach us about organizing for climate justice in the United States?". Environmental Sociology. 5 (2): 188–206. doi:10.1080/23251042.2018.1541953.
  3. ^ a b "Standing Rock activists: Don't call us protesters. We're water protectors". Public Radio International. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ a b "Meet Josephine Mandamin (Anishinaabekwe), The "Water Walker" | Mother Earth Water Walk". www.motherearthwaterwalk.com. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  6. ^ "Anishinabek Nation mourns the loss of Grandmother Water Walker Josephine Mandamin". Manitoulin Expositor. 2019-02-22. Retrieved 2019-10-19.
  7. ^ a b "Mi'kmaq water protectors blocking fossil fuel infrastructure in Nova Scotia | rabble.ca". rabble.ca. 2018-03-20. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  8. ^ Rowe, James K (2017-10-09). "Lessons From the Frontlines of Anti-Colonial Pipeline Resistance" (PDF). escholarship.org. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  9. ^ "The Water Protector Movement". Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
  10. ^ "3 Labrador water protectors in St. John's jail over Muskrat Falls protest". aptnnews.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  11. ^ "Muskrat Falls Ecological Grief: Resistance became a "profound, unstoppable force," says researcher". aptnnews.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  12. ^ "Camp Cloud eviction deadline comes and goes as assistant fire chief pledges support for water protectors". aptnnews.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  13. ^ López, Edwin (2019-01-18). "Race, Culture, and Resistance at Standing Rock: an Analysis of Racialized Dispossession and Indigenous Resistance". Perspectives on Global Development and Technology. 18 (1–2): 113–133. doi:10.1163/15691497-12341508. ISSN 1569-1500.
  14. ^ Wong, Rita (8 January 2019). "We can all learn from Wet'suwet'en laws". National Observer. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  15. ^ "Women Warrior Water Protectors of DAPL". IndianCountryToday.com. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  16. ^ Monkman, Lenard (19 August 2017). "How art and spirituality are defining the 'water protectors'". CBC News. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  17. ^ a b Kent, Melissa (22 March 2018). "Canadian teen tells UN to 'warrior up,' give water same protections as people". CBC News. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  18. ^ Johnson, Rhiannon (23 September 2017). "'It's really very crucial right now': Great Lakes Water Walk focuses on protecting 'lifeblood'". CBC News. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  19. ^ "Teen who scolded Trudeau to address UN". BBC News. 2017-12-31. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  20. ^ "Autumn Peltier up for Nobel children's prize". aptnnews.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  21. ^ Breen, Katie (29 Aug 2017). "Muskrat Falls protester Marjorie Flowers no longer under house arrest". CBC News. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  22. ^ "Land protectors face criminal charges for defending water, food, culture – TheIndependent.ca". 2017-03-18. Retrieved 2019-01-10.