One of my classmates at UVIC is from the Blackfoot Nation. He recently informed me that the Blackfoot Cree provided the inspiration for Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when Maslow visited the Siksika Blackfloot community in 1938. The well-known triangle symbol in Maslow’s hierarchy places the most important human needs on the bottom. The Blackfoot looked at needs from a circular perspective, rather than ranking the importance of our needs.
The importance of self-actualization and living in communal cooperation in relationship to place rather than in isolation may be one of the most important lessons Maslow learned during his visit. In his article The Blackfoot Wisdom that Inspired Maslow’s Hierarchy, Teju Ravilochana explains that “a circular model captures the inter-relatedness of our needs and helps highlight that we can experience needs simultaneously and in changing order.”
Water comes to mind when I think about my most vital needs. The human body is 60% water. When the moon changes the tide, it impacts us because we are water. Perhaps this is why some of us act a bit funny on a full moon. Water is powerful—it can create and destroy.
Without water we cannot live, yet climate change is putting our oceans at risk. Science shows that ocean circulation is slowing, causing extreme weather and slowing the natural circulation process that helps disperse toxins that flow from places like Sanria, Ontario otherwise known as the “Chemical Valley”. This causes ecological risks beyond climate change. Marla Cone details how her research shows high traces of chemicals in the milk of breastfeeding Inuit mothers in her book Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic. Meanwhile, circumpolar countries are racing to claim the sea floor of the Arctic to drill and mine, increasing the chances of conflict and environmental catastrophe. Cross the narrow Bering Strait and you will find the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 1.6 million square kilometers of microplastics with the weight of 500 jumbo jets. While groups are working to clean it up, hauling garbage over the side of a boat isn’t going to cut it.
An Elder was once passed the microphone at a consultation meeting I attended ten years ago and said that one day water will cost more than gas. That day has come. The average litre of bottled water can cost upwards of $3 on Vancouver Island, while a litre of gas is rounded up to $2 at the pumps. Shannon Snyder writes in the Water Project that mining of aquafers for the sole purpose of profit depletes the source so it’s best to make sure to get water from a local reputable source rather than from advertisements claiming that it’s from the Fijian islands or the Arctic glaciers.
Nowadays a bottle of water doesn’t even contain only water. Most of us can no longer find a natural stream to cup our hands to sip from like our ancestors did. Now, many do not have the luxury of clean drinking water from a tap and cannot afford to purchase clean water to drink. Poor drinking water quality on reserves has persisted for decades: some Nations in Canada like Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario have been under boil water advisories for nearly 30 years. At any given time more than 100 drinking water advisories are in place for First Nations across Canada, largely due to the remoteness of First Nations, government underfunding for reserves, and slow movement on the governments’ part.
We are in dire need of water protectors. The great Dene prophet Ayah from Deline, Northwest Territories warned that the Great Bear Lake will be the last freshwater lake in the world and that people will flock to it from all over. The words of Wyonna LeDuke ring true in the fight for clean water: “Someone needs to explain to me why wanting clean drinking water makes you an activist, and why proposing to destroy water with chemical warfare doesn’t make a corporation a terrorist.” Youth like Autumn Peltier are speaking up. “We can’t eat money, or drink oil,” explains Autumn, with a powerful warning for the future.
While visiting Kátł’odeeche First Nation, a small reserve in the Northwest Territories, I sipped tea with an Elder and her husband in their living room as they told me a story about the importance of taking care of groundwater. “Water and oil don’t mix.” they explained, “Fill a cup half full of oil and the rest with water, you will see that the water sits on top.” In nature, if you take too much oil out of the ground, the water sitting on top will fall in its place and cause drought. The past several years have been the driest on record in many places, ruining crops and fueling out of control forest fires. Could it be that not caring for something we cannot see like groundwater or air contributes to environmental issues? We cannot operate through out of sight out of mind policies.
We can begin to protect our precious water systems from the comfort of our homes by not buying bottled water, switching to sustainable, phosphate-free detergents, educating ourselves on the climate emergency, pressuring politicians to make changes, and standing with activists with issues that are close to home.
We must join in the circle of self-actualization and communal relationship as found in the Blackfoot teachings. I am on that journey, and hope you will join me in caring for the earth and addressing the climate emergency, placing water in the circle as one of the first foundational needs.
Read Green with our Climate Writer in Residence: Indigenomics by Carol Anne Hilton
Wednesday, March 20, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.