Water is life

Dr Easkey Britton, surfer and founder of Like Water, is a marine social scientist at the National University of Ireland Galway. The work of Easkey explores the relationship between people and the sea, using her passion for the ocean to create social change and connection across cultures. Currently resides in Donegal, Ireland.

Words & photograph by Dr Easkey Britton

“This water ceremony is for everyone who wants to connect with the spirit of water,” began Mi’kmaq Grandmother, Elder, water walker, water protector and residential school survivor, Dorene Bernard. She was giving the opening address at the regional North Atlantic workshop for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the beginning of the year. 

“Water is alive, it has spirit, it hears you, sees you, feels you and it is you,” she continued. You could hear a pin drop in the conference room filled with over 150 delegates from various countries around the North Atlantic basin, from a mix of ocean science disciplines, ocean research institutes and high level policy. 

She spoke of our human relationship with water and how most of us take it for granted, thinking it will always be there. Her people, the Mi’kmaq from Canada’s eastern maritime provinces and other indigenous First Nations know first hand what it is to appreciate the sacredness of water when they have to fight so hard for access to clean water, clean coasts and healthy seas. 

Water needs our prayers, and our forgiveness. Elder Bernard led us through a water ceremony asking us to connect with the water, the water in our glass, all the water above us, below us and inside us, in the rivers, lakes and oceans, and to pray for the protection of clean water and the healing of polluted water. Dorene taught us a water prayer, passed to her from Anishinabe Grandmother, Doreen Day, that can be translated into your own language and sung for the water every day. The words translated from Mi’kmaq are:

Samqwan, Kesalul – Water, we love you.

Samqwan, Wela’lin – Water, we thank you.

Samqwan, Kepmitel’mul – Water, we respect you. 

Dorene brought the sacred feminine into the room, speaking of women’s particular connection to water, as water keepers, with the ability to bring forth new life from the water inside us. Throughout the following days of intense workshopping on the key goals identified by the United Nation’s for the Ocean Decade, the energy of her words stayed with me. How the wellbeing of water is deeply interconnected with the wellbeing of humans, and all life. Water is life. This is what indigenous peoples have always known. 

On the last day, a hereditary Chief from Inuit Nunangat spoke of how his people had been forcibly removed from their families, homes, and ancestral lands, and he reminded all of us that, “the ocean is a home too, for the animals and the plants of the sea,” our ocean relatives. He spoke about the lack of meaningful knowledge exchange and collaboration in much of the scientific research and policy-making undertaken, and although scientists and policy makers, “don’t consult with a salmon, you should have consulted with those who live with the salmon”, he said. He reminded us that the environment is not provincial, something ‘out there’,  it touches us all.

Before reporting back on the key messages I’d learned about the cross-cutting theme I was there to track throughout all the working group discussions, that of how to build capacity during the decade of the ocean, I wanted to honour the power of these messages, to speak to the heart of our relationship with the ocean; 

My name, Easkey, has its origins in ancient Gaelic for fish. I’m named after an important salmon river in Ireland that creates a beautiful wave where it flows into the sea, it is my father’s favourite surf spot. In Irish, the salmon is known as, bradán feasa, the salmon of knowledge or wisdom. So there was a time when we understood the wisdom of other species, a time when we listened to the more-than-human world… and somehow we have forgotten. My name reminds me that my identity is tied to the identity of the salmon. All of our identities are inextricably linked to the sea. We have all been shaped and formed by the ocean. 

Angeline Gillis, an indigenous researcher who works tirelessly with her people, the Mi’kmaq, to build ocean science capacity, stressed the need to define ‘capacity building’ in a holistic way from an indigenous perspective. She called this the, ’two-eyed-seeing’ approach, where one eye was science and the other eye the local, traditional or indigenous, and both eyes were needed in order to see the whole picture. And perhaps we need to open the third eye too, the eye of the ocean itself and all the life it is home to.

To learn more about the UN Decade of the Ocean visit: www.oceandecade.com

Issue Eleven
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_sealegacy

This column appears in ISSUE 11: The hunt of Oceanographic Magazine

Issue Eleven
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_sealegacy
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_sealegacy

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