Colonial and Non-colonial Water

As we work to free ourselves from the constrictions placed on the Earth by colonial understandings and allow it to come to life again, it’s good to remember that the very concept of water is no less colonial than the concept of land. To illustrate the point, here are two forms of water transfer technology.

The Earth’s version is in the back. The colonial version, which turns water into a lifeless form so it can pass roads without turning them into living environments, is in the foreground, ready to be applied. Stepping forward, we get a clearer view of the Earth’s mechanisms: big eroded cuts that transfer water, and pools of water below the concentrating faces of hangs.

This is not new knowledge. The Norse goddess Hlín was a protectress, linked to an overhanging cliff, which was described as a tree. In short, even as late as 1,000 years ago in the North of the European world, the cliff, the tree, and the energy of them was one. That is not the European notion that was transferred to North America in the piping systems that made liquid water. Here’s the Earth at work again, to the right (east) of the hang above.

Here, a slope of even deposits has been cut by water, to form channels, less for liquid water than the trees and bushes that lift that water into the air. The water here, in other words, had one liquid role in the past, and has a living role now: it is cliff, tree and flow at the same time. It doesn’t pass through this landscape as a liquid, but as life. In other words, if we want the life of the land to flow as a substance (water) through colonial structures (cities and farms) in the manner of highways, we have to drain the land itself of that life. We might proudly state that we are no longer a colonial state, because we have our own independent government, but that’s disingenuous, because the very foundation of that state, land and water themselves, are colonial constructs. The land has more sophisticated notions. What you see below is not a grove of trees.

It is a lake. Instead of fish, it has birds, insects, bears, porcupines, deer and more, but, tellingly, not humans. It is considered wild, a bit of nature, and thus a non-human environment, which one can visit or view and thereby be renewed. That is a profoundly colonial notion, and it lies at the very heart of Canadian culture. Frankly, given the environments of Canadian cities, with their highways, streets, buildings and traffic, it is necessary. So is delivering “water” to these cities in pipes. Both maintain life. Our ancestors knew something else, though, whether Indigenous here or indigenous in Europe, Africa or Asia. Because the separation of hangs like the one above into “water”, “land” and “nature” requires the land to be drained of life, it is not only a mirror of the clearances of Indigenous people 150 years ago but is unsustainable. The cities aren’t going anywhere, of course, but there’s a lot we can do to integrate Hlín into their structures and reintegrate human life with the Earth

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