The Keepers of the Water movement was born during the first Keepers of the Water Gathering in Liidlii Kui, Denendeh/Fort Simpson, NWT, held on September 7, 2006. This Gathering was called because the people of the northern Mackenzie River Basin were becoming alarmed with reports of increased turbidity and toxicity, and decreased volume of water in their watershed. What was happening to the water and the ecosystems that relied upon it?
Meeting on the shores of the great Deh Cho (Mackenzie River), a gathering of Elders from the north created the Keepers of the Water Declaration:
Water is life. We embody water. It is a sacred gift. Love, honor, and respect of water is essential. We share a vision of unity based on Elders’ guidance, ceremonies and natural law. Keepers of the Water values water and environment, for a sustainable and just future for the survival of all living beings for generations to come.
Water is sacred. Keepers of the Water continue to protect the land and water by exercising Indigenous sovereignty, and applying the spirit and intent of Treaty.
Keepers of the Water speaks for the voices that cannot be heard, which includes the rivers, creeks, watersheds, and all those that depend on it for life.
Keepers of the Water will protect, and share the traditional knowledge from our land, and ensure we can all come together in one heart and one mind.
The Keepers of Water mandate is to elevate decolonized traditional Indigenous water governance. This is done by emphasizing Indigenous land-based knowledge, language and culture. KOW challenges the colonial narrative through a critical analysis of past and present practices in education, research and policy development.
KOW brings networks of people together and delivers an accessible annual gathering. We share information in order to empower communities to understand the sacredness of water and have the tools to move forward with hope.
In August 2007, Elders gathered once again in Thebacha, Denendeh/Fort Smith, NWT, and drafted a series of resolutions to further support the Keepers of the Water.
We, the Indigenous peoples of the Mackenzie River Basin and all the peoples of the Basin, from south to north, have gathered in Thebacha, Denendeh (Ft. Smith, NWT) for Tu Beta Ts'ena, the "Water is Life" Conference, held from August 20th-23rd, 2007 to express our concerns about the quality and quantity of our waters: the lifeline of all beings.
- Elders Resolutions, "Tu beta Ts'ena" Conference, Ft. Smith, NWT, August 20th-23rd, 2007
These Elders' resolutions were further refined during the September 2007 Keepers of the Water II: Keeping the Peace conference, to reflect the growing voice of Elders throughout the Arctic Ocean Drainage Basin.
At the Keepers of the Water II: Keeping the Peace, a second resolution supported by all attendees was drafted. It was resolved that a national Keepers of the Water organization be formulated, with chapters for each watershed within the Arctic Ocean Drainage Basin:
We are concerned about the state of water across our country and around the globe. We support the development of a grassroots watershed plan for the Arctic Ocean Drainage Basin, bringing together First Nations, local citizens and community groups....
We are committed to building a coalition of Keepers of the Water, and creating our own Keepers groups - Keepers of the Peace, Slave, Athabasca, Liard, Hay, and Mackenzie... - all the tributaries of the Arctic Ocean Drainage Basin. It is our hope that this will feed into a Canada-wide Keepers of the Water alliance.
- Keepers of the Water II Resolution, Ft. St. John, BC, September 27-29th, 2007
A third outcome of the Keepers of the Water II: Keeping the Peace was the development of a rough watershed plan for the Arctic Ocean Drainage Basin, a plan that will continue to be developed and revised as new concerns, goals and actions are identified by groups throughout the Basin over the years to come.