This article is a commemoration of the late Myra Rutherdale, Associate Professor of History at York University, who presented a version of this essay at a Canadian Studies conference in Jerusalem in the spring of 2013. Her graduate student Erin Dolmage and colleague Carolyn Podruchny extended and completed the essay to honour Myra’s dedication to scholarship and social justice. Erin and Carolyn thank Robert Rutherdale and members of the History of Indigenous Peoples (HIP) Network at York for their helpful feedback.
Water is political. It nourishes us, connects us, and separates us. Water is especially political in Canada: almost nine percent of Canada is covered by fresh water, annually Canada’s rivers discharge seven percent of the world’s renewable water supply, and Canada holds 25 percent of the world’s wetlands. But we forget the power of water sometimes when stories about water become stirred into other stories, especially about Indigenous women’s bodies. The mingling of stories about water and about Indigenous women seems obvious. Indigenous women in Canada have long had special connections to water. In the Haudenosaunee tradition, Sky Woman built the world as we know it out of a primordial sea on the back of a turtle. Four women (three of them Indigenous and the fourth an ally) founded the Idle No More Movement to protect Canada’s waters, as well as Indigenous rights, from Stephen Harper’s government. The mainstream English Canadian media, however, began to conflate the Idle No More movement with Indigenous women’s bodies, focusing on objectification, discrimination, and violence. The desiccated imagery in newspaper reports of scorched Indigenous women’s bodies left us wondering what happened to the water that the Idle No More Movement set out to protect? [continue reading…]