My American name is Walter Bresette, son of Anishinabe parents Henry and Blanche. I was born on July 4, 1947 in Reserve, Wisconsin at the BIA hospital for indigenous moms. Both my parents were from Red Cliff where I currently live and am an enrolled member. Our reservation is one of 12 villages which make up the Lake Superior Chippewa -- a political entity which signed numerous treaties with the United States. Our ancestors came from Madeline Island, the last stopping place of the sacred Megis shell in the long migration of our people.
Although Red Cliff is small and very assimilated, many friends and relatives throughout Anishinabe territory have looked after us. Some came because of our connection to the nearby sacred island. All give us strength, knowledge and wisdom; none gave up on us though many gave up on ourselves. Today, as I travel around North America I'm saddened by the state of our nation - the Anishinabe. We have all suffered much from colonial domination. But we mustn't give up on each other. Though we are weakened and scarred we must struggle forward. I'm also saddened by the way our territories have been poisoned. And, collectively we must do something about this ongoing assault.
I write to ask that you join me and my friends, partners, colleagues in changing things. We plan on beginning within days. A public beginning to what we know has been wanted and needed for generations. On February 11th in Toronto we will hold a press conference to announce an initiative - The Seventh Generation Initiative - to save the Great Lakes. This press conference will follow a day-long meeting with senior government officials of the United States and Canada who are responsible for protecting the Great Lakes. Though we will contribute to their agenda from an indigenous perspective, we will also inform them that either we join together in serious efforts to save the Great Lakes or we must go it alone. We know that although some of them have a good heart, their system cannot solve the problem - their system is the problem. We know that our sovereignty, our treaty rights, our ceremonies and our knowledge has demonstrated for thousands of generations that it can live sustainably. But now we also know that we cannot fix it alone; we must recruit partners, but we must act and act now.
Though I will be an official tribal delegate from Red Cliff at this Toronto meeting, for the past twenty years I've had many affiliations and duties - leading toward the full assertion of native sovereignty and fighting against environmental threats. Last year I met SML (Small Media Large) founder Kevin Best at a conference in Milwaukee. This chance encounter has turned into a year of dreams, hopes, strategies. Others, including Anishinabe of Nawash and Walpole Island, have joined us in a growing partnership and now is the unveiling of a campaign - The Seventh Generation Initiative - to save the Great Lakes with leadership necessarily coming from the bundle of knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples. Within SML, now a multinational group, we have found balance and common ground. Together we will walk toward our goal.
Attached is our Declaration. This is what we intend to do. It has been guided by elders, women, song, ceremonies, arguments, tears, laughter and commitment. If there is anything in this declaration that you too share, or other things that need to be added, we invite your comment. We also invite your support. But what we really want is your partnership. These attached words are symbols for ideas, a truth that really belongs to no one but ideally to all. But like all things, all truths, someone must start. We, SML, our growing friends and partners, feel obligated to move this forward. Our hope is that soon it will not be an SML initiative, but as more people, groups, councils, bands and nations gather around this truth, it will simply be an ongoing initiative of those who live on and love the Great Lakes.
Please join us if you can, contact us if you must, and if you can't do either then please make your own declaration, but do it soon. I can be reached through Kevin's SML offices in Toronto: Tel/Fax: (905) 814-8586 Pager: (416) 600-7023. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your Relative, Walt Bresette
A DECLARATION FOR THE GREAT LAKES: The Seventh Generation Initiative Our elders and their scientists have found common ground - the earth is our mother, is suffering from human degradation. This is affecting our children and perhaps will devastate future generations. With this reality, things simply must change. As Anishnabeg we must join with our neighbors in turning this chemical assault around. If our neighbors and their governments won't, then we must lead. Today, we pray that we find the strength and wisdom to show the way. Today we begin the Seventh Generation Initiative to save the Great Lakes - for now and for the future.
Natural laws determine the balance of life here on earth. The Great Lakes watershed is not exempt from these laws: people are not exempt from these laws. If there is to be a meaningful future for the Great Lakes, a sustainable future, then people must understand and abide by these natural laws. To do otherwise is to participate in mass euthanasia - cultural suicide.
We who are indigenous to the Great Lakes have acquired our rights from these natural laws. We call them instructions from our Mother, the Earth. Our evolution is here, our stories are here, our beliefs are here, our cosmology is here; all are attached to the maintenance of these natural laws. Despite changes in recent times, our rights still exist, they persist, and will continue to do so as long as we exist. These rights, stories, beliefs are inalienable.
Not too long ago others came with other beliefs from another mother across the ocean. Their mother, long removed as a relative of the earth, wore a crown. These people gained power, influence and advanced technology. This experience however, instead of making them wiser, removed them even further from the natural laws, from our Mother, the Earth. They used their power to gain dominance over all people and all things in the Great Lakes.
Though indigenous people have suffered from this dominance, some of us were able to cling to and practice the instructions of our Mother. Today this is called indigenous knowledge. We must use this knowledge, ceremonies, culture and rights to lead the way back to balance. This is a truth, and is as real as gravity surely represents one of these natural laws. They did not invent gravity but in their way of thinking, their knowledge, they simply named it. Some of them are good at naming things - at finding facts. We must join their facts with our truth; if this can happen, we together can have a future.
Our rights surely flow from our Mother, the Earth. That which we have left has even been acknowledged, named by them. Codified, as their lawyers say. The treaties, the legislation, the court rulings are not things that they gave us, but these simply affirm that which we've always had. It is this remaining portion of earth sovereignty that, because they have been acknowledged, will help lead the way to balance. And the only way to do this is to act, to find the will to assert that which we have.
Given the alternative of a progressively polluted Great Lakes there really is no choice. Any short-term loss of political favor, by no longer being silent victims, will be far outweighed and rewarded by the generations who will follow. If we act now, there will be future generations who will also cling to stories, beliefs, ceremonies and rights. If we do what's right now, log into the future, songs will be sung and ceremonies held to remember when these difficult dark nights now were changed into bright days.
One hundred and fifty years from now - Seven Generations - a story will be told how a long, long, long time ago at the turn of the second millennia, the Anishinabe and other indigenous people stepped forward to save the Great Lakes for future generations. Today, using indigenous sovereignty, treaty rights, ceremonies, knowledge and beliefs, we must begin. We must work closely with these newer people who also wish a future for their descendants. But we cannot wait for their leaders nor must we any longer ask their permission. If their governments cannot go forward then we must embrace as our own any one who wishes to walk side-by side; some will have facts we need; some already are our mother's children.
As we continue to look for and pick up bundles we left along the wayside, others will help create new bundles for the journey ahead. For sure these steps will be difficult times filled with hardship. But, unless we start now, the future simply will not exist. And, as their scientists report more and more facts, some of us are already dying. Let's join together now, today and lead the way - the Anishinabe way. If, as the elders have told us, we are our grandparents dream, then we must today begin dreaming of our grandchildren.