Transforming Tribal Water Management: ‘Mni’ Indigenous Movement joins ‘Village Earth’ as Newest Global Affiliate

SWIFTBIRD, SD- A small group of indigenous water restoration advocates are making big ripples in Indian country. Starting on the Cheyenne River Lakota reservation in North-central South Dakota, Mni (Grassroots for Water Justice) is uniting indigenous nations with hydrologists, landscape engineers, activists, volunteers and other allies for the task of physically returning moisture to the land by restoring the world water cycle.

Water cycle restoration, as described by Candace Ducheneaux, Lakota grandmother and Mni visionary, is key to restoring the earth’s balance and a complement to water protection. “Put a fist in the air for water protection” she says, “and put a shovel in your fist for water security”. Mni, which means ‘water’ in Lakota, wields that shovel by working to restore water security and sustainability on tribal homelands across North and South America.

Recently, Village Earth, a Colorado based non-profit, named Mni among their Global Affiliates. David Bartecchi, director of Village Earth, says this affiliation will give Mni a global reach and grant them access to numerous resources that enhance “social and political empowerment, community self-reliance and self-determination.” This support has been enthusiastically received by Mni advocates who will use it to foster water restoration efforts on tribal lands across the continent. “I hope we can work together to promote the importance of sound watershed restoration and management and the leadership role that indigenous communities are playing in fighting global climate change,” says Bartecchi.

Mni is moving full-speed ahead with several water restoration projects on the Cheyenne River Lakota homelands. One summer project will bring intertribal volunteers to the Tatanka Wakpala Model Sustainability Community camp on the east end of the reservation, to learn hands-on sustainable water management skills that they may implement in their own communities. Mni is building partnerships with other tribal peoples who recognize that a healthy water cycle is critical to planetary balance and human survival, and who are ready to initiate water restoration in their own territories.

How exactly will Mni promote water restoration? According to Ducheneaux, “Mni will implement water restoration on indigenous homelands through rainwater harvest and ecosystem restoration that will recharge ground waters and revitalize damaged ecosystems.” This is done with an emphasis on respect for the water cycle.

The water cycle is the movement of water through forests, wetlands, aquifers, glaciers, and Earth’s ecosystems. This movement not only sustains life and provides freshwater, but it regulates the earth’s temperature, just as water regulates body temperature. However, in the last century or so, human activities have severely damaged Earth’s ecosystems and water’s ability to move through them, resulting in substantially drier lands, rising oceans, extreme weather events, and global warming.

Ducheneaux, who resides with her family in Swiftbird, SD, is no stranger to the deleterious effects of a damaged water cycle. She has witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of sustained drought on her tribal homelands. In just the last decade South Dakota and Tribal governments made 21 Major Disaster Declarations, from flooding to severe winter storms. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report minimum flows in the Missouri River Dams year after year, and South Dakota recently established a formal Drought Task Force to monitor weather conditions.

Ducheneaux recognizes that this extreme weather is destroying tribal lands and the people’s ability to draw life from them. For her, water restoration is not only about reversing climate change, it is about returning water sustainability to the land so that the people may resume traditional lifestyles that will maintain earth’s balance and ensure water security.

Humans have set the planet on a course to run out of usable water, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who, in May 2013, shocked the international community when he announced, “We live in an increasingly water insecure world where demand often outstrips supply… Under current trends, future demands for water will not be met.”

His warnings echo indigenous prophesies that foretold of a day when people would not be able to control what they had created. Many of today’s indigenous leaders also voice deep concerns about the growing global water crisis. In November 2013, Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota chief and bundle keeper, made a Statement of Urgency to the United Nations. He said, “We, the Original Caretakers of Mother Earth, offer our spiritual insight, wisdom and vision to the global community to help guide the actions needed to overcome the current threats to all life. We only have to look at our own bodies to recognize the sacred purpose of water on Mother Earth. We respect and honor our spiritual relationship with the lifeblood of Mother Earth…. We must recover our sacred relationship with the Spirit of Water”.

These are the warnings that Mni advocates take seriously and work to address. In the face growing water scarcity and the catastrophic potential of a broken water cycle, it is crucial to take action now to ensure a habitable environment and safe drinking water for future generations.

“Not one drop of rain must leave our territories and be wasted into the rising oceans without first being used to replenish our fresh water sources and restore our tribal homelands,” Ducheneaux explains. “The Mni plan is to construct thousands of small water catchments at all elevations along reservation streams and watercourses. This will slow rainwater run-off, increase ground water infiltration and capture eroded soils, creating ideal conditions for reforestation and natural plant resurgence.” This reinvigorated environment, she says, will allow for the reestablishment of earth’s smaller water cycles and, thus, the repair of the larger hydrological cycle.

Construction of these rainwater catchments, as put forth by Mni, will make use of native materials and native labor. For the Cheyenne River Lakota who suffer extremely high rates of unemployment and whose reservation is comprised of two of the poorest counties in the nation, this means strengthening their community through the training and employment of underserved members.

Mni’s model for water restoration is based on the ‘Blue Alternative’ method, which pairs water management with existing community resources. Ducheneaux contacted hydrologist Michal Kravcik after she learned of his widespread success with this innovative method in his Slovakian homeland. Kravcik had offered his government this method of responsible water management as an alternative to building a super dam that would have damaged river ecosystems and displaced hundreds of villagers. The success and sustainable application of this Blue Alternative won Kravcik the 1999 international Goldman Environmental Prize.

At Mni’s invitation in 2012 and 2013, Kravcik travelled to the Cheyenne River Lakota reservation to assess tribal lands and customize a water restoration plan. Together with tribal members, Kravcik identified ways to use natural materials such as timber, rocks, straw and dirt to establish a sustainable system of water management. They determined that community members could be trained to implement and maintain the eco-friendly system themselves. Mni’s “emphasis on indigenous communities and their bigger-picture concerns for global climate change” are what caught Village Earth’s attention according to Bartecchi. “We select projects that focus on transforming the root causes of poverty and powerlessness and who demonstrate a strong accountability to their communities.”

This focus on indigenous communities is integral to the Mni vision, which derives its purpose from the importance of water in native cultures. “Mni wiconi, water is life,” it says on the first page of their website. Every drop is healing, and Mni is making healing waves. “Mni will be the catalyst in uniting the indigenous nations of this hemisphere in the protection, restoration, and governance of fresh water resources,” says Ducheneaux.

For more information about Mni efforts please visit the website

Contact: Candace Ducheneaux
(605) 733-2148 (605) 200-0044

Mni (12.Feb 2014)