October 24, 2012

Words and Works from Great Lakes Gathering Participants

Read observations from Great Lakes gathering participants on the state of the Great Lakes and our time together

At the Great Lakes Commons gathering, scholars, economists, engineers, Indigenous leaders, environmental and social justice activists, attorneys, artists, and students from the U.S., Canada, and Indigenous Nations came together to explore strategies for establishing the Great Lakes as a living commons.

Below you will find a few reflections from Great Lakes gathering participants on the state of the Great Lakes and our time together, as well as links to the work of participating artists.


“This indispensable resource—water—has come to be taken for granted and, even worse, viewed as an expendable commodity. I shudder to imagine that our children will think water is something you buy in a store.”

Camille Gage, artist

“We are moving forward to build a deep awareness of water, our environment, culture and place. The participants in the gathering became the lived experience of a commons and I know that experience will begin to vibrate within the organizations, work, and hearts of those who attended. These ripples will spread out among the various communities and will gather together in a Great Lakes Commons. I felt the tension of difference, but also felt the beauty of our shared humanity. The gathering gave me renewed insight into what it takes to really be present, be authentic, and make connections. I trust the connections we made at the Great Lakes Water Gathering will grow deep roots, and be nourished by the nutrients of love, joy, respect, care, concern, gratitude, responsibility, and the waters of the Great Lakes.”

— Charity Hicks, “Detroit Black Community Food Security Network”:

“We are each on a journey to find ourselves. We are guided in choosing pathways of action to not do harm, to repair and restore what has been harmed, and to act in ways that will add to the strength of our coming generations and the world within which they will live. We must learn how to walk softly on Mother Earth and in the Cosmos.

The gathering and the work for the Great Lakes Commons was an opportunity to further this mission, personally and collectively. As we left the Gathering we were leaving the world a bit better than we found it, and we were leaving with ideas for creating the tools that will help others to do the same.”

— Frank Ettawageshik, “United Tribes of Michigan”:

“Present Governance structures conform little to environmental conditions or ecosystem realities. For the most part, political boundaries were created to serve a system of colonial settlement, resource extraction and industrial manufacture while denaturing ecosystems and limiting environmentally appropriate governance. Faced with over exploitation of resources, ecosystem degradation, contamination of soils and water, and artificially stimulated climate change the people of North America need to re-imagine how we connect to the indigenous earth. Reforming ecologically sound political boundaries is a step in the right direction but we also need to ground economics, social and cultural practices that work with natural replenishment cycles rather than against them.”

— Robert Lovelace, Ardoch Algonquin First Nation

“As a participant who came with high hopes for what might be achieved during this GL Gathering, I was looking forward to seeing how people who are working on Great Lakes issues might intentfully begin to work as a nascent Great Lakes Commons Group in three days time…” You can find Mary Beth’s full reflections here and “here”:

— Mary Beth Steisslinger, “School of Commoning”:

“The gathering was a cutting edge event bringing together an impressive breadth of people from different cultures, backgrounds, professions and walks of life. We built and strengthened relationships that will be the key to breaking down the individualism created and reinforced by our market economies and instrumental to building a Great Lakes community based on commons and public trust principles.” You can read more from Emma “here”:

— Emma Lui, “The Council of Canadians”:

“Robert Lovelace opened our last day together by facilitating a commons exchange for the Great Lakes. He started off stating that ‘Historically, people have gathered and done three things together: shared stories, traded with each other and swapped DNA.’ Since we’d spent the last few days together sharing stories of history, trauma and hope, it was now time to connect and stay connected through one another through a commons exchange.

Charity hicks from Detroit asked for help with affordable “off-the-grid” technology for Detroit residents to help address rising utility costs. Ron Plain from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation offered passive solar technology making use of soda bottles and other readily available materials. Martin Auer offered to host gatherings and research at the new Great Lakes Research Institute at Michigan Technical University. Jayme Montgomery’s request for rural experiences for the urban Milwaukee youth she works with was met by Philomena from the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians. And so the circle continued, weaving us one-to-another through our needs and gifts and deepening and expanding the network for the Great Lakes Commons.”

— Ana Micka, “On the Commons”:

Artist Websites

Peter L. Johnson, “Art with Lake Michigan”:

Kathy Skerritt, Splash!

Sandy Spieler, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, “Invigorate the Common Well”:

“Ricardo Levin Morales”:

“Dave Niec”:

“Nicole McGrath”:

“Prudence Johnson”:

“Claudia Schmidt”: