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Reprinted from
Great Lakes Commons.org

March 28, 2015

A Visionary Plan to Save the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes Commons Charter rallies people to protect the place they love


We began with a question: “Why, with all of the remarkable efforts to protect and preserve the Great Lakes, were our waters ever more jeopardized?” This question was at the heart of a 2010 gathering of environmental and environmental justice activists, First Nations and Native American leaders, scientists, educators, artists and other allies who shared a love of the Great Lakes. 

We concluded that we couldn’t achieve healthy Lakes fighting the threats one by one without ALSO addressing deeper problems: 

  • We treat water as a commodity or resource, prioritizing industrial, agricultural and energy demands at the expense of ecological and human wellbeing;
  • Political boundaries in the Lakes region fragment decision making in ways that do not correspond to ecological realities;
  • The people of the Lakes are disconnected from water stewardship and largely lack standing or power in the water decisions that affect them;
  • And stunningly, we appear to have forgotten that we too are part of this eco-system, not outside it, and that our lives and those of future generations depend on the Lakes.

Nor could we wait for someone else to lead the way – the citizens of the Lakes needed to step up and act. That is origins of the Great Lakes Commons Charter, which you will find below.  ---GreatLakesCommons.org

You can endorse the charter here

Out of our love for the Great Lakes and our responsibilities to future generations, we are calling for a renewed relationship and mode of governance for the Great Lakes Commons. We are asking you to join us.

Drawing on the rich knowledge of commons and Indigenous traditions, the Great Lakes Commons Charter is a participatory effort to build community engagement, agreement and shared responsibility for the water. Together we are creating a living Charter that embodies commons governing philosophy: that these lakes are irreplaceable, sacred, and necessary for life and must be carefully shared and protected in perpetuity.

Creating a Commons Charter for the Great Lakes will engage people and communities around the bioregion in laying the foundation for a Great Lakes Commons – all of us have a right to care and a role to play in creating a new future. The Charter will gather the beliefs and commitments of the different peoples of the bio-region; and by doing this, we will be asserting the legitimacy of these ideas and our role in shaping the governance for our Lakes

In essence the GLC Charter is an organizing effort to build agreement and leadership for commons based governance in the Great Lakes. It will allow us to accomplish several things simultaneously:

  • to collaboratively develop and assert a set of guiding principles for the care of our waters;
  • to activate people in the region to take leadership in water stewardship in accordance with these principles;
  • to legitimize and lay groundwork for a commons approach to the governance of our waters (e.g. bio-regional, eco-system-based, multi-generational in perspective and empowering of local communities).

It can serve as a foundation for allied work across borders and Nations, Native and non-Native peoples, activists and everyday citizens. It will draw on the complementary frameworks and practices of commons and indigenous governance, public trust doctrine, regional treaty rights and other congruent bodies of thought.

The charter process and product has been designed to build power, engagement, belonging, relationships, and a sense of responsibility for the water. The product will be a written living document and will embody a new commons governing philosophy that these lakes are sacred, not-replaceable, and need to be restored and protected for all in perpetuity.

You can endorse the charter here



We, the people of the Great Lakes, love and depend upon our waters to sustain our lives, our communities and all life in our ecosystem.


It is therefore with growing alarm that we confront a painful reality – that despite decades of effort the Lakes are more threatened than ever. As people from across the Great Lakes, we find this unacceptable. We cannot stand by while our waters are treated as an expendable and exploitable resource when we know they are a source of life.


Moved by a hope that we can yet create a thriving and life sustaining future for our Lakes, we step forward to take up our responsibility to care for and act on behalf of these waters, our Great Lakes Commons. Seeing that the health of our waters is intertwined with our own health and that of generations yet to come, we are called to assert a deeper connection and more powerful role in the future of our waters.


We hereby set forth the Great Lakes Commons Charter, a living document that affirms and empowers the wisdom and rightful role of the people of the Lakes as stewards of our waters.


This Declaration and the First Principles emerge from the collaborative work of people and communities around the lakes. Together we reflect many walks of life, histories and cultures. At the same time, a single purpose unites us: to transition to a mode of Great Lakes governance by which the waters and all living beings can flourish.


Towards this end, we affirm:

That the waters of the Great Lakes have sustained the lives of the people and communities in their basin since time immemorial and they should continue to do so in perpetuity.


That the waters, ecosystems, and communities of the Great Lakes are entwined and interdependent. Damage to any of these causes harm to the others.


That the Great Lakes are a gift and a responsibility held in common by the peoples and communities of the Lakes and must be treated as such as to ensure their preservation for coming generations.


That the boundaries of states, provinces and nations crisscross the Lakes but do not divide their natural integrity. All decision-making that impacts the Great Lakes must place the well-being of the bio-region and ecosystem as a whole at the center of consideration.


That the inherent sovereignty and rights of Indigenous peoples as codified in treaties and international agreements must be upheld as foundational to commons governance.



We join our voices in affirming the spirit and necessity of this declaration as the foundation for a renewed relationship and mode of governance for our Great Lakes Commons. We welcome the wisdom, standing and power that this document will accrue over time to shape the future of our Lakes. We invest it with our hopes and commitments to that future and to the future generations who will inherit the legacy of our actions.


In signing this Charter, we embrace our responsibility, individual and collective, to act on behalf of these waters and of future generations.

Download the charter here.