2017 Flint Summit

NOTE: This event took place September 29 and 30, 2017 in Flint MI. We now move forward with energy that was sparked during the event.

The 2017 Water is Life: Strengthening the Great Lakes Commons summit

An Invitation to Share, Learn and Protect

September 08, 2017 On September 29-30, 2017, concerned residents from across Michigan, USA and Ontario, Canada, along with Indigenous peoples will gather in Flint, Michigan to discuss Great Lakes threats, human rights and water sovereignty.

We invite you to participate in this community-based summit of Michigan, Ontario and Indigenous residents opposing commodification and privatization of water, and strengthening the Great Lakes commons and indigenous sovereignty. Featured keynotes, plenaries and workshops will address how bottled water turns commons into commodities and how Great Lakes peoples can shift water ownership into guardianship and a human right.

Keynote speakers feature:

  • Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians
  • Holly Bird, Michigan Water Protectors Legal Task Force
  • Lila Cabbil, People’s Water Board
  • Bishop Bernadel L. Jefferson, Faith Deliverance Center Church
  • Claire McClinton, Flint Democracy Defense League
  • Jim Olson, For Love of Water 

Panels include:

  • Flint and Detroit Water Justice: Flint water contamination; Detroit water shutoffs and Emergency Management in Both Cities.
  • Michigan, Indigenous and Ontario Communities in Water Crisis: The Privatization of Water.

Water Summit Objectives:

  • Educate Michigan and Ontario residents on water privatization and public-private partnerships of municipal water assets.
  • Inform residents on water commodification efforts by Nestlé, including marketing efforts to undermine public tap water.
  • Report and analyze community-based struggles against the privatization and/or contamination of drinking water; and the deprivation of safe, accessible, affordable drinking water to residents.
  • Develop and/or strategically support community-based and First Nation actions against water privatization, deprivation and commodification; and in support of the water sovereignty, indigenous self-determination and the human right to water.
  • Coordinate statewide or regional actions against water privatization, deprivation and commodification that include Nestle as a target.

Event Program

Tentative schedule of the one and half day program:

Friday, September 29  ●  5:00-9:00pm

Overview of the global context; framing the issues: water justice; anti-privatization; Nestlé in Canada and Michigan, anti-bottled water; bolstering public water ownership and infrastructure; colonization of water; explaining emergency management of Flint and Detroit

Featured speakers:

  • Maude Barlow, The Council of Canadians
  • Holly Bird, Michigan Water Protectors Legal Task Force
  • Lila Cabbil, Detroit People’s Water Board
  • Bishop Bernadel L. Jefferson, CAUTION
  • Jim Olson, FLOW

5:00pm  Registration and reception, meet and greet
6:00pm  Indigenous welcome and water blessing
6:20pm  Summit welcome and overview
6:30pm  Keynote: Maude Barlow (Council of Canadians) ─ Global framing on the privatization of water and human rights; Nestlé in Canada
7:00pm  Music: Gaia Women of the Great Lakes Basin
7:10pm  Michigan legal analysis: Jim Olson (For Love of Water) – Nestlé in Michigan, Great Lakes Compact, NAFTA, public trust
7:30pm  Indigenous legal perspective: Holly Bird (Michigan Water Protectors Legal Task Force)
7:50pm  Short film: Story of Bottled Water
8:00pm  Panel: Flint and Detroit Water Justice: Flint water contamination; Detroit water shutoffs and emergency management in both cities                
                ─ Lila Cabbil (People’s Water Board) 
                ─ Bishop Bernadel L. Jefferson (Faith Deliverance Center Church)   8:30pm  Audience Q&A
8:45pm  Ways to work for change; Wrap-up
9:00pm  End of evening song

Saturday, September 30  ●  9:00am-3:00pm
Analysis of the Flint crisis; discussing water crises in several Michigan, Ontario and Indigenous communities; providing space for residents to share stories and experiences of water privatization; examining corporate and public-private partnership harms; outlining public water infrastructure needs; developing strategies for Blue Communities and the public commons.
9:00am   Registration and light breakfast, meet and greet 
9:30am   Indigenous welcome, Woodside Church greeting; overview
9:45am   Keynote: Claire McClinton (Democracy Defense League) ─ An analysis of Flint’s 3.5 years in water crisis
10:15am   Panel: Michigan, Indigenous and Ontario Communities in Water Crisis: The Privatization of Water  
                  ─ Sylvia Plain, Aamjiwnaang First Nation and Great Lakes Canoe Journey
                  ─ Marian Kramer, Highland Park Human Rights Coalition
                  ─ Peggy Case, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation
                  ─ TBC, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe
                  ─ Robert Case, Wellington Water Watchers
11:15am   Q&A
11:30am   Next steps: Lunch, workshops and strategies
11:45am   Lunch and music
12:15pm   Concurrent Workshops: Round 1 
1:15pm   Break 
1:30pm   Concurrent Workshops: Round 2
2:30pm   Next steps, closing comments; culture/song, water blessing/gratitude
3:00pm   End of event


A growing global movement is taking action to protect water as a commons to treat water as a common good that is shared by everyone, and the responsibility of all, by adopting a framework that:

  1. Recognizes water and sanitation as human rights and water as a commons.
  2. Bans or phases out the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities and at municipal events.
  3. Promotes publicly financed, owned, and operated safe water and wastewater infrastructure and services.
  4. Recognizes the public trust that protects the waters and community uses of the Great Lakes.  

The Water Is Life summit will discuss and expand these issues with interactive workshops including:

Workshop 1: Water Justice:  A Primer for Citizens and Communities in the Great Lakes Basin

Facilitated by Jim Olson and Liz Kirkwood, FLOW (For Love of Water)  

Workshop 2: Paint the town blue: How to make your community a Blue Community!

There are nearly 20 Blue Communities in Canada and the project has grown internationally with Paris, France, Cambuquira, Brazil, communities in Switzerland and Northampton, MA going blue. Faith based groups like the World Council of Churches have also adopted the Blue Communities principles. The Blue Communities Project started in Canada and was launched by the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees. The Project is also sponsored by FLOW in the Great Lakes and Eau Secours in Quebec.

Learn what you can do as a community activist, public sector worker, concerned resident or municipal councillor to help protect the water commons in the face of increasing pressure to commodify and privatize water.

Workshop facilitator(s): Emma Lui, water campaigner, Council of Canadians

Workshop 3: Challenging Corporate Control of Water

Join us as we review the basics of water privatization and the commodification of water by corporations like Nestle and Veolia. Hear about inspiring stories of communities who have stood up to corporations threatening their water and learn how to identify warning signs for water privatization and bottling in your own community. 

Workshop 4: Colonial enclosure of water: What it is, how it’s happening and what can we all do to support Indigenous sovereignty.

How can we (re)Indigenize Great Lakes water governance? How are we aligning our efforts to both de-commercialize and de-colonize water guardianship? Since the Great Lakes are shared by Indigenous and non-Indigenous nations, what can we do to honor our respectful and reciprocal bonds with all of our relations? 

Nestle and privatizing companies don’t share our water ethics and they should not be welcomed. Yet Michigan, Ontario, and their related water institutions continue to impose their water-ways onto Indigenous peoples across the Great Lakes. These colonial institutions give away resource permits and treat the waters as if they own them. Having uninvited and foreign powers control the water has been disastrous for Indigenous peoples and a renewed relationship for water sharing and governance is fiercely needed. 

A ‘Water is Life’ outlook and commitment offers us a chance to reject commercial and colonial control of water and build an alliance protecting water as a source, and not a resource. Come participate in this workshop to:

  • receive new educational resources on Indigenous water governance
  • hear about various examples (re)Indigenizing Great Lakes protection
  • share questions and strategies connecting environmental justice, commons principles, and Indigenous practices

Hosted by: Renee Le Roux Goretsky (PhD Candidate, University of Guelph) and Paul Baines (Great Lakes Commons)

Workshop 5: Great Lakes Water Authority public-private partnership and the grassroots quest for water affordability: Lessons from Detroit.
Plus, “Envisioning A More Effective Strategy to End Corporate Water Grabs Through Community Rights Local Ballot Initiatives.”

Maureen Taylor and Sylvia Orduño, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization
Paul Cienfuegos, Community Rights U.S. 

Workshop 6: Grassroots actions to challenge the privatization and pollution of water by the Oil & Gas Industry and Nestle

Analyzing the ways in which oil, gas and water bottling corporations gain permits that are destructive for communities and how grassroots groups can fight back.

Karen Turnbull & Jeff Ostahowski, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation

Workshop 7: Understanding the Flint Water crisis KWA back-story and Flint’s struggle for survival, support and self-determination.

Melissa Mays, Water You Fighting For
Russ Bellant, Southeast Michigan water system educator and historian 
San Juana “Juani” Olivares, Genesee County Hispanic Latino Collaborative

Workshop 8: Say No To Nestlé – Lessons from Wellington Water Watchers Campaign in Ontario.

How did a grassroots organization in Ontario spark a public campaign that led Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario to declare a moratorium on new permits to bottle water and cause a review of regulations?

Karen Rathwell (WWW leader) will present a timeline of significant events in Wellington Water Watchers Say No To Nestlé campaign in the last 18 months, describe lessons learned and challenges that still face the campaign to phase out permits to bottle water in Ontario.

Mike Balkwill (Campaign Director) will present a tool for developing campaign strategy and lead a participatory exercise that workshop participants can apply to their own organizing. (Mike Balkwill is co-author with Rob Fairley of Campaign Planning Handbook which can be downloaded free here.)

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