There are an estimated 476 million Indigenous peoples in the world living across 90 countries. Each year on 9 August, we observe the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples to recognise their contributions, achievements, and resiliency.
Our teams are involved in projects all over the world and many involve developing inclusive approaches to working in partnership with Indigenous peoples. By creating inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and celebrating diversity of thought, we aim to develop holistic and sustainable solutions. A perfect illustration is the management of water; from policy and infrastructure development, to operation, maintenance and quality monitoring. The associations with and importance of water are incredibly diverse.
Have you ever considered what water may mean to the Indigenous peoples in the areas you operate? We caught up with members of #TeamWood as they share their personal accounts.
In Australia, water holds significant cultural value for Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples are connected to and responsible for land and water, and in turn, obtain and maintain spiritual and cultural identity, life and livelihoods from the lands, waters, and resources. These cultural and customary rights and responsibilities include management of water sites, protection of Indigenous heritage, and access to cultural activities such as hunting, fishing, and ceremony.
Wood provides essential maintenance services to Melbourne Water to meet community outcomes including Indigenous values. That is primarily ensuring reliable, affordable, fit for purpose water is available now and for the future, by maintaining water supply infrastructure and treatment works. These services are focused on resilience to flooding and impact to the environment in and around waterways. The Aboriginal value of water is recognised through the promotion of Aboriginal business and employment, providing cultural awareness education and symbolisation on workforce PPE.
As we do, our client Melbourne Water also has an Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan. Through this and their Heritage Improvement Program, they are establishing and fostering partnerships with Aboriginal communities. Throughout resource planning and management processes, the spiritual and customary living relationship with water is recognised.
The main source of Melbourne’s drinking water is the Yarra River. The river and its catchment provide 70% of Melbourne’s drinking water, and is home to one-third of Victoria’s animal species. The river is of great spiritual and cultural significance for Aboriginal Communities.
Sources: Melbourne Water 101 and Melbourne Water’s Service Portfolio
Water is important to the Indigenous peoples in Canada in many ways, and has been used in traditional teachings as essential for physical and mental health. Water has always been a means of transportation, and is connected to hunting, fishing, food, and medicine. Spending time on the water provides elders and youth the opportunity to share ways of understanding nature and cultural values, from one generation to the next.
Water represents birth and renewal in many Indigenous cultures. Earth is mother, and her water is her livelihood. For this reason, we cannot own the Earth and it is our collective responsibility to protect water for future generations. As life givers, women are guardians of the water and this is the reason they are often viewed as the water carriers. and the ones to perform special water blessing ceremonies.
There are many topics related to the importance of water across Indigenous communities in Canada. These include the high number of First Nation and Inuit communities who still operate on boil water advisories due to outdated infrastructure, the contamination of waterways and the flooding of traditional lands.
Indigenous and Treaty rights require consultation to be conducted on any major development projects as they affect changes to traditional territories and their future use of the waterways and land. Remediation and reclamation projects taking place in waterways place huge importance on the input of Indigenous peoples to share traditional knowledge of an area to balance the bio-physical approach to projects and understanding how to design projects that respect and protect water.
I’m Diné (Navajo) of the Táchii'nii (Red Running into The Water) clan from Table Mesa, New Mexico and I’m an Environmental Specialist-Tech III in Phoenix, Arizona. My homeland receives approximately 9-inches of water annually and my Indigenous perspective of water is shared through the following personal stories.
Water Nourishes, my mother taught me about the female and male rain. The nourishing effect of gentle female rain falls slowly, seeps into the ground and allows for plant growth. The male rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, cleanses the earth. As children, we could bathe and splash in the puddles of the gentle rain but were told to sit quietly and reflect during the aggressive rain. Our spirit is also nourished with winter snow, children are bathed in first snow to embody strength and endurance.
I grew up in a household without running water; it took over 30 years for my family to obtain running water. As a child, my father hauled water in a 250-gallon tank from a nearby well, taking several trips for the water to bathe, drink, clean and water the plants and animals. Every Sunday in preparation for school, I shared warm bathwater with my five siblings. First the baby, then in order from cleanest to dirtiest, of course, none of us wanted to be last!
Water is Shared. I took a trip to the Great Salt Lake in Utah for lake salt, an 800 miles roundtrip. I perused the isles of large salt rocks in the store but knew I could not afford the pieces I needed. A man approached me with a container of salt, with the box extended he said, “Take this, I know your people have been coming here for generations. There is no need to pay”. Tears dropped to my cheeks as I accepted the gift. He was the owner and held the sacred knowledge of the Diné pilgrimage to the lake to collect salt. The pieces of salt were shared with family and friends to celebrate my son’s first laugh. Culturally, this salt was representative of tears, by consuming the salt, we collectively rejoiced his leaving the spirit world and joining his earth family.
As a Táchii'nii woman, water is in my lineage and defines who I am. Water continues to be a sacred lifeline of my people. We Indigenous peoples have faced environmental challenges, yet we remain resilient. As an environmental professional, I maintain my Indigenous knowledge to address these challenges. Thank you and may you walk in beauty.