Indigenous Peoples and the Great Lakes in North America

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Devy, G.N., & Davis, G.V. (Eds.). (2020). Environment and Belief Systems (1st ed.). Routledge India.


Human relationships with the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem were regulated by various treaties and governance systems for thousands of years prior to European colonization. During these millennia, the waters and surrounding lands of the region were maintained in a healthy state that provided a wealth of benefits to all human and non-human inhabitants. During the relatively short period since colonization, the ecosystem has suffered extensive degradation, with indigenous peoples suffering a disproportionate level of health and economic impacts as a result. Binational agreements such as the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada have for decades been concerned with maintaining and restoring the water quality of the region, but have only recently come to recognize the importance of indigenous rights, responsibilities and knowledge with respect to the area. This recognition is welcome and long overdue, but continues to fall short of respecting an indigenous voice on a nation-to-nation basis. In order for indigenous perspectives to be meaningfully applied to the protection of Great Lakes waters, indigenous peoples must be afforded the opportunity to work collaboratively with other interests on Great Lakes protection initiatives from their inception, rather than trying repeatedly - and often ineffectively - to provide mere “input” into existing non-indigenous frameworks. A summary of indigenous concerns with respect to the Great Lakes environment is offered as a starting point for discussion around the development of a more meaningful collaboration.