Indigenous Peoples Update

Indigenous Peoples Update

The Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund is pleased to announce the expansion of our network with the introduction of the Indigenous Peoples Hub. In creating this hub we have worked with groups such as the Great Lakes Indigenous Environmental Network, members of the Migration Journey, and Great Lakes United, and plan to continue to solicit input about the structure and function of this new hub. Maria Maybee, of Great Lakes United and a member of the Seneca Nation, will lead the new Hub work to increase our communications with and services to Indigenous Peoples. Welcome!

Indigenous Peoples of the Great Lakes region are historic inhabitants of North America’s northeastern and southeastern woodlands. First Nation and tribal communities of Indigenous Peoples are an important part of this region. Most of the indigenous communities of the Great Lakes Basin are in the wetlands, swamps, marshes, and along the riverbanks and shorelines of the Great Lakes Basin. All have a common appreciation for naturalized knowledge of aquatic habitats and species. This knowledge, understanding, and gratitude for all the elements and their connection to each other, including people, is reflected in the words of Katsi Cook, a Mohawk midwife from Akwasane, “And we thank the waters. The waters of the rivers and the waters of our bodies are the same water.”

That basic understanding is key to indigenous cultures based on a common principle that directs the community to constantly think about the welfare of seven generations into the future. The new Indigenous Peoples Hub of the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund will provide information and financial support to grassroots efforts of citizens’ initiatives working to protect and restore shorelines, lakes, rivers, wetlands, and other aquatic habitats in the Great Lakes Basin for generations to come.

The Indigenous Environmental Network notes that for indigenous peoples, aquatic habitats are home, and indigenous peoples depend on the fish, aquatic plants, and wildlife to a greater extent and in different ways than does the general population. Many indigenous peoples of the region are reliant on a subsistence-based lifestyle. Consumption and use of aquatic resources not only meets basic nutritional and economic needs, but also provides resources for cultural, traditional, and/or religious purposes. Additionally, for many tribes, polluted aquatic ecosystems impair or even prohibit their ability to exercise treaty-protected rights to hunt, fish, and gather. Degradation and depletion of aquatic habitats and species does not only affect the present generation. They take a toll on future generations and on the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next. When the tie to the natural environment is broken, it affects the language, teachings, stories, songs, celebrations, and ceremonies of indigenous peoples of the world. As aquatic habitats change, so do we.


The Great Lakes region has experienced exposure to contaminants such as persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals in the food we eat. Many species show signs of tumors, deformities, and decline in populations. What happens to the animals happens to all of us eventually. The cycle of life is important; the first environment of our children is contaminated from land use impacts to the environment we live in, usually without the consent or consideration of indigenous communities. Changing roles of elders, women, children, men, and families are consequences of the minimized connection to the natural environment. Perspectives may be different, but the issues concerning aquatic habitats and species are the same. As aquatic habitats change, so do we. The Indigenous Peoples Hub will provide opportunities for networking, information sharing, consultation, funding opportunity information, and other support for the efforts of individual citizens and citizen groups participating in local and regional resource decision-making in indigenous communities. For more information, comments, or concerns please contact the hub coordinator, Maria Maybee, at Great Lakes United (see contact info. p. 7).

Nway Weh
(Thank You and Be Well)


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.