GENESIS OF BLUE ECOLOGY: “Water – A First Nation’s Spiritual and Ecological Perspective”, a paper by Michael Blackstock, professional forester and scholar of Gitxsan descent, published in 2001
Ecological Perspective on Water
In 2001, the BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management published the first paper written by Michael Blackstock regarding water from a First Nations spiritual and ecological perspective. At the time, Michael Blackstock was Aboriginal Affairs Manager, BC Ministry of Forestry.
His paper documents, through the use of ethnographic research methods, First Nations’ concerns and perspectives about water. The paper’s scope was primarily limited to the views of three Elders from the southern Interior of British Columbia: Mary Thomas from the Secwepemc, Millie Michell from the Nlaka’pamux, and Mary Louie from the Syilx Nation.
Secondary literature sources complement the Elders’ sharing of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). The Elders’ emphasis on the spiritual importance of water is contrasted with Western science’s emphasis on water’s unique physical and chemical properties.
This fundamental difference raises questions about Western science’s approach to freshwater ecosystem management and study. Ultimately, this paper documents the wisdom of highly respected Elders about water in relation to the culture and freshwater ecosystems of south-central British Columbia.
Where Elders Can Help
In his 2001 paper, Michael Blackstock provided an over-arching context by quoting Carl G. Jung who observed that:
“as scientific understanding has grown, so our world has become dehumanized. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos, because he is no longer involved in nature . . . Thunder is no longer the voice of an angry god . . . No river contains a spirit, no tree is the life principle of a man . . . His contact with nature has gone, and with it has gone the profound emotional energy that this symbolic connection supplied” (quote from the book Man and his symbols, published 1964).
“This sentiment still rings true today: we have lost our emotional and spiritual appreciation for nature. This is where the Elders can help—with their wisdom of past generations.”
To Learn More:
To read the paper that Michael Blackstock wrote in 2001, download Water: A First Nation’s Spiritual and Ecological Perspective.
Start of the Blue Ecology Journey
“The concern over water and what is happening to Mother Earth was shared in a dramatic way by a Nlaka’pamux Elder,” wrote Michael Blackstock.
“At the age of 86, Mildred Michell (N’whal’Eenak, or Rising Star, was born on May 13, 1914 and passed away on October 2, 2000) agreed to be interviewed on the importance of water to our lives.
“She was a highly respected and knowledgeable Elder in her Nation and by other Nations in the southern Interior. I arrived, along with my colleagues Joyce Sam, Art Sam, and Rhonda McAllister, at Millie’s home (at the Siska Indian Reserve) as a witness to already unfolding events on October 2, 2000.
The Interview with Millie Michell in 2000
“After introductions and tea were made, Millie began to speak in her own language (through the interpreter Art Sam) about the importance of water. Millie’s first comment to Art was:
“Why do they [myself and my colleagues] come here to ask us about water, isn’t water important to them as well?”
“Millie was puzzled, since human’s are made up of two-thirds water—we all need water, so why were we here. Nevertheless, she understood our purpose and began to talk to us about water.”
Passing of the Torch to Michael Blackstock
“Events related to the Blue Ecology journey started to unfold prior to October 2, 2000, but that day Elder Millie Michelle , of the Siska First Nation, passed a torch to me. She said:
“Now that I shared my teachings and worries about water, what are you going to do about it?”
“She passed away from a stroke moments after she said those words. At the hospital in Lytton, her family told me that Millie had waited to talk to me, before she joined her late husband. Her family wanted me to continue my work on water.
“In February of 2009, the International Association of Hydrological Science published my paper on Blue Ecology in their prestigious Red Book series.
“Seventeen years layer, I have written multiple peer-reviewed papers, book chapters and given presentations to UNESCO in Paris, Capri, and Istanbul about the theory of Blue Ecology which emerged from interweaving Indigenous water knowledge shared by elders, like Millie, with Western Science.
“I feel as though I have now carried out Millie’s wishes.”
To Learn More:
Read the set of stories posted on the Convening for Action community-of-interest under An inspirational workshop on “Blue Ecology – interweaving First Nations cultural knowledge and Western science” (November 28, 2017 in Richmond)