Water as Life, as Being, and as Person

Nicole Sault
Email address: 
Proposal Type: 
50 min prerecorded session - see below for format options
Session Date and Time: 
Friday, 14 May, 2021 - 14:45 to 16:00

Struggles over water are increasing as water becomes more scarce or floods, is more contaminated and commodified. Water defenders and water protectors speak of water as vital for survival, and in many cultures water is understood as a living being and/or spirit. Recently legal scholars have been called upon to join in defending water by defining bodies of water like lakes in terms of “personhood,” arguing that if corporations can be defined as legal persons, then a river or a spring can be also. These presentations describe the meaning and status of water in relation to cultural perspectives that call upon the reclamation of liquid traditions in safeguarding water, the land, and communities in relation to colonization, sovereignty, treaty rights, and mapping of bodies of water on the land and also along coastlines, out at sea, and under or in the sky. 

Presentation format: 
Oral (pre-recorded)
, Nicole - Sally Glean Center

Water is the focus of ceremonial life in the Andes, in a cycle that connects land and sea with the sky and beyond to the stars. The watery cycle reaches up through clouds into the star-filled celestial river and returns through rain, snow, hail, and fog, flowing to mountains, lakes, and rivers, and then passing down to the sea. This watery cycle also connects seaweed and seashells with highland camelids, potatoes, fish, and birds such as condors and flamingos. Their part in this cycle is called upon and honored through ceremonies to protect and encourage the continued flow of water and watery beings. Threats to any part of the cycle can disturb the whole, whether this be due to mining or the climate crisis. As Andean peoples say “water is life”— so any disruption in the flow is a threat to the survival of all.


Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Esther - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement
, Annamária - Université Paris 8-Saint-Denis-Vincennes
, Marie-Paule - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement

Floodplains of the Amazon river provide abundant resources but are a vulnerable environment.  Seasonal floods fertilize the lands where short-cycle plants and fruit trees are cultivated. A profusion of fish can be captured, especially in dry season, when cattle is taken to graze on the uncovered lands. Nevertheless, occasional strong floods can destroy houses and plantations.  They used to occur about every 20 years, but now take place every two or three years, reaching water levels previously unrecorded. In recent years, dry seasons have also been drier, impacting local activities. With the example of the Great Lake of Curuaí, a floodplain located near the city of Santarem, we will describe how people perceive and adapt to the environmental changes and also analyze how these changes are intertwined with social, economic and political conditions.

Presentation format: 
Oral (pre-recorded)
, Victoria - Universidad de Chile
, Daniela - Universidad de Tarapacá-FONDECYT

For the Indigenous peoples of the southern Andes, both human and non-human inhabitants of the universe originated from springs. Water has been essential not only for their livelihoods, but also for their social life in general. In many Andean agro-pastoral communities, water shortages can be traced to indiscriminate and abusive extraction for urban and industrial purposes, without consideration for integrated and sustainable solutions. Relentless water extraction has turned wetlands into salt marshes and destroyed a way of life that is inextricably tied to land and water. While many people have been compelled to migrate to urban suburbs, those who remain have been forced to confront punishing changes in water management in order to be able to irrigate their crops. We address water use in the Atacama desert and its central importance as embodied in cultural expressions of both the past and the present.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)

Heron cooperative, located in Belgium, is a small farm that grows vegetables according to the principles of agroecology. Water is central to the life of this farm for watering the different crops. Beyond the obvious, water can be seen as an interspecific sign between humans, plants, and even bacteria. When farmers bring to saturation the soil deeply with water before transplanting tomatoes, they do it to encourage the roots to go deeper. When manure is sprinkled with water in spring in the greenhouses, it starts a considerable fermentation that will warm the greenhouses and allow the sowing. Agroecology is based on an in-depth knowledge of the agroecosystem to guide it by actions seen as signs for the nonhumans. But water is also a sign of changing times. When the drought strikes, farmers have to deal with quasi-constant irrigation, and the lack of water reveals the fragility of the plants as a metaphor for our own fragility.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Anita - Luther College

Likan Tatay is an indigenous community in northern Chile that has a long trajectory of resistance through their fight to reconstruct a traditional village, but in an urban space. In rural villages, community members had once practiced a livelihood involving herding animals and small-scale agriculture for which water and land was fundamental. The encroachment of mining and its water theft, led many rural indigenous peoples to migrate to the city in one of the driest deserts in the world. Not wanting to abandon their connection with water and land, Likan Tatay began as a squatter settlement in the poverty belt of Calama mining town. Initially, community members had little choice but to steal sewage water from the public pipeline to irrigate their crops. Their faith in the powers of the Pachamama played a central role in their successful fight to make a living and practice their culture in the city.

Presentation format: 
Oral (pre-recorded)
, Felipe - York University

The Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor in southern Costa Rica was created through the collective efforts of local community members and other local stakeholders, including academic researchers.  In 2004 a private corporation began to plan for the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the Peñas Blancas river that runs through the Corridor, along with a collection of other similar dams in the region.  Hydroelectricity is touted as a clean energy, and this reasoning was used to push this project forward.  However, community world views and actions were able to protect their river for culturally relevant uses.  I recount part of this struggle and how more-than-human inhabitants of the Corridor also played a part in this struggle.