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What is the Future of the Great Lakes?

A commons belonging to all, not a resource for a few

“Saving the Great Lakes Forever” was the rallying cry of the recent conference held May 6-7 in Traverse City, Michigan and hosted by the FLOW coalition (For the Love of Water). On the Commons staff Alexa Bradley and Faye Brown joined water activists from around Lake Michigan and beyond to talk about ways to protect these waters and our communities from a multitude of threats: from privatization and bottling to pollution, over-extraction and hydro-fracking.

Keynote speaker Maude Barlow, Chair of the Council of Canadians, lead off the gathering with a rousing speech that laid out a proactive approach to the crises facing the Lakes—“a new narrative to guide us and a common set of goals to unite us.”

The solution Barlow proposes is both ancient and new: we must reclaim the Great Lakes as a commons belonging to all of us and not as a “resource for the convenience, pleasure and profit of the powerful.” Under a commons approach, she pointed out, “the Lakes and water would be shared equitably and carefully managed for the good of the whole community.” (See her new report A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Forever. )

Wenonah Hauter , Executive Director of Food and Water Watch, opened a solution-oriented morning session by reminding participants that “we must organize the future we want”. This was followed by a series of films and discussions echoing the theme, exploring the public trust doctrine and other legal strategies, grassroots organizing efforts and cultural and spiritual connections that can awaken public awareness to reclaim our Great Lakes Commons.

The closing panel featured Jim Olsen of FLOW for water, Frank Ettageweshik of the Little Traverse Band of Odawa Indians, Emma Lui of the Council of Canadians, Melissa Scanlon founder of Midwest Environmental Advocates and Wenonah Hauter, and was moderated by OTC staffer, Alexa Bradley.

Emma Lui summed up the spirit of the event with her comment: “Just because our governments do not recognize the Great Lakes as a Commons does not mean we should give up our claim to them.”

Jim Olsen and Frank Ettageweshik set forward a Grand Traverse Resolution that will be shared with others who care about the Lakes.

Click here to see the presentations by Maude Barlow, Wenonah Hauter and the “final panel”:http://player.vimeo.com/video/23567355?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0