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Featured speakers for Agraria’s “Honoring Water” conference this weekend include, from left: Kelsey Leonard, Isabel Friend, Mike Ekberg, Jake Stockwell and Deborah Leonard. The conference will take place online Friday and Saturday, Nov. 5 and 6, via the Zoom video conference platform. (Submitted photos)

Agraria’s Pathways to Regeneration conference to ‘honor water’

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“What we do to water, we do to ourselves,” says Isabel Friend, a water advocate who has spent the last 12 years exploring the fundamental nature of our connections with water.

Through online blogs, videos and webinars, as well as public speaking engagements, workshops and water ceremonies, Friend promotes the necessity of nurturing a reciprocal relationship with “the liquid source of life.”

She will share some of her insights this weekend as the Saturday keynote speaker for the annual Pathways to Regeneration conference presented by the locally based Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice.

Shelly Blackman listing, 1415 Pagosa Way, Yellow Springs, OH

“Honoring Water” is the theme of this year’s two-day event, to be presented online through the Zoom video conference platform. Past conferences in the Pathways series have explored soil health, resiliency and wellness and food growing and preservation.

This weekend’s event, which opens Friday morning, Nov. 5, features talks, performances and panel discussions by a lineup of presenters whose research, professional work, activism and art have connections to water. The participants plan to explore water issues as they relate to municipal systems, industry, agriculture, spirituality and culture at the local, regional and national levels.

Friend, whose talk is titled “Understanding the True Nature of Water Can Unlock a Reciprocal Stewardship,” seeks to bring together modern scientific discoveries with ancient ancestral wisdom.

In a phone call this week from her current home in Costa Rica, Friend said she is interested in exploring the interconnections between the metaphysical aspects of water’s life-sustaining properties and its “very physical and ecological” nature.

All of who we are is tied to water, she said. We are made mostly of its essence, and our physical health and mental stability depend on it.

It is to our individual and communal disadvantage to consider water as “a commodity to be bought and sold,” Friend said. Rather, we would do well to follow the example of Indigenous peoples who see water as a living being that exists “in common” with humanity, and which we should “treat with generosity.”

Friday evening’s keynote speaker, Kelsey Leonard, has a similar message.

“I was taught that water is alive. It can hear. It can hold memories,” Leonard said in a 2019 TED talk, in which she promoted the legal rights of rivers and lakes.

An enrolled citizen of the Shinnecock Nation, Leonard is a water scientist, legal scholar, policy expert and writer. Her Agraria conference talk is titled “Indigenous Water Justice and its Climatic, Territorial, and Governance Underpinnings for our Shared Sustainable Future.”

“Water is a living relative,” Leonard said in her TED talk, noting that “we’ve granted personhood to corporations … why not the many waterways across our planet that we all depend on to survive?”
Standing with Indigenous people as they seek to protect water and counter other threats to their ancestral territories is a longstanding focus of another conference participant, Jacob Stockwell, whose Friday afternoon talk is titled “Running into the Swamps: Field Notes of an Accomplice to Indigenous Resistance, Building Solidarity with Indigenous Resistance Movements.”

An alumnus of Antioch College with a bachelor’s degree in peace studies, Stockwell has, since 2005, helped herd sheep for Diné Tribe elders of Black Mesa who are resisting their relocation and the extraction of natural resources from their homes.

This past summer, Stockwell joined the Movement to Stop Line 3, a proposed oil pipeline within Anishinaabeg and Dakota territories in the U.S. state of Minnesota. He will be speaking about that experience as well as ways non-Indigenous people can be allies in Indigenous-led efforts.

While the Line 3 actions became more widely known this summer, Stockwell said he was surprised to learn Indigenous water protectors “had been working on this for about seven years.”

In a phone call from his current home in northern New Mexico, he said he plans to lift up Native voices and viewpoints through short videos interwoven through his talk, which will touch on the interconnectedness of the struggle to protect water and land as “a human experience,” while also recognizing his privilege as an American of European descent.

“Each of us lives on stolen land,” he said.

Stockwell supports taking direct action through civil disobedience toward protecting the earth’s resources, and he is among those who were arrested during the summer’s Line 3 protests.

Conference participants who are working within municipal systems seeking to protect waterways include Mike Ekberg and Deborah Leonard. Ekberg is the water monitoring manager for the Miami Conservancy District, based in Dayton, and Leonard is the communications director for the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati.

A hydrologist by training, Ekberg will speak about the threat of “forever chemicals,” known as PFAS, on the groundwater of the Miami Valley region, and ways to prevent that exposure.

PFAS, typically pronounced “pea-fas,” stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are a group of manufactured chemicals that “have remarkable properties,” especially as repellents, Ekberg said in a phone interview this week.

They go into making nonstick cookware, protecting carpets and upholstery from stains, some fast-food packaging and firefighting foams, among other uses.

Intended to make life easier, they have had unintended consequences on our water systems, Ekberg said.

“And there’s still a lot we don’t know about their impacts,” he added.

He noted that the residents of the Miami Valley get most of their drinking water from groundwater, where many parts of the country rely on nearby rivers and lakes. The Miami Valley has an abundance of natural water, unlike other places plagued by droughts and scarcity, Egberg said.

“We are blessed to live in an area that’s water rich,” he said. “But we have to keep our natural water resources in good health so future generations can benefit also.”

As a representative of Cincinnati’s sewer department, Deb Leonard plans to share the story of a recently completed water protection project in Cincinnati’s South Fairmont neighborhood, a historically transient and low-income area.

The effort, the first of its kind in the nation, according to Leonard, successfully mitigated sewage overflow in the Mill Creek, a tributary of the Ohio River.

“On the surface, it looks like a park,” she said in a phone call this week, describing the observable scene of an approximately mile-long above-ground stream connected to a pond.

“What it really is is stormwater control,” Leonard said.

Prior to the project, “more than a billion gallons of sewage mixed with rainwater was overflowing in the Mill Creek each year,” she said. “The results of the project eliminate 800 million gallons a year, which subsequently already has led to the appearance of nine new fish species in the creek waters,” she said.

Leonard will explain how it works in her Friday talk.

For a complete schedule of the conference and to register, go to http://www.communitysolution.org.
Suggested cost is $50 for the full event, with $10 requested of those who can’t pay the whole amount.

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