[Blog] Healing Our Rivers: The Origin of A Meeting of Sacred Waters

(December 4, 2023)

Indigenous identities and knowledge systems, in all their diversity, are intricately woven within and across our ancestral lands and waters. They are the means upon which our cultural, physical, and spiritual survival depends. In sharp contrast, Western mindsets tend to view nature, and especially water, as a commodity, maintaining a relationship that is centered on ownership and resource-taking.

Rivers are an excellent example. For nearly 200 years, two colonial powers wielded control over the Colorado and Whanganui Rivers, fragmenting them both and threatening their health. All of that changed for the Whanganui River when, in 2017, the New Zealand parliament legislated Indigenous law granting the river with legal ‘personhood’: Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act. This monumental act is the legal framework by which the innate relationship of the River to the People and the People to the River is upheld.  

Two rivers facing similar colonial threats.  Two different outcomes. Te Awa Tupua Settlement Act recognizes the Whanganui River as an indivisible whole, incorporating its tributaries and all its physical and metaphysical elements from the mountains to the sea. Conversely, the Colorado River remains among the most controlled and litigated rivers in the world, and continues to be threatened by overallocation, damming, diversion and drought.

How do we safeguard our rivers from continued harm?  The evidence is mounting.

Indigenous knowledge systems are key to designing a sustainable future for all.*

In 2020, Red Star International, Inc. embarked on a journey to bring together Indigenous Leaders representing tribes with connections to the Colorado River Basin in the U.S. and the Whanganui River in Aotearoa/New Zealand.  In partnership with the office of Te Pou Tupua (the human face and voice of Te Awa Tupua – the Whanganui River) and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., we facilitated an Indigenous knowledge exchange about the health and healing of our rivers. 

Knowledge is deepened when learning experiences foster

connection, mutual respect and a shared vision.

In 2021 and 2023, Indigenous leaders from both regions of the world came together for A Meeting of Sacred Waters to share their experiences, and to dialogue about the value and importance of Indigenous knowledge in improving the health of all rivers. We documented the exchange in a short documentary entitled: From the Mountains to the Sea.  Together, we created educational resources to encourage deeper engagement and discussion with others about the concepts that emerged from the exchange. 

Join us at A Meeting of Sacred Waters on March 12-13, 2024, at Isleta Resort and Casino (near Albuquerque), New Mexico as we continue the conversation as a global community in support of all ancestral waters, from source to sea.

Author: Aleena M. Kawe, MPH (Yoeme)

President & CEO, Red Star International, Inc.

*Source: International Institute for Sustainable Development