The Lakota phrase Mni Wiconi meaning Water is Life inspires and encourages humanity to protect, honor, and respect the water. Why should we care?
In their explanation of the existence of life, scientists, politicians, and religious leaders have failed to understand that water is not so much a resource as it is the source of our existence. This lack of understanding influences policy development and causes us to forget that we fail to exist without water spiritually and physically.
Nestle Waters of North America buys the rights to water all over the United States. They take advantage of states with weak water ownership laws, buying up public lands, and taking advantage of not understanding that water should not be owned and sold privately. In February 2021, Florida gave the company the right to increase water bottling to nearly 1 million gallons of water a day from the Ginnie Springs. When water is bottled and transported away from its source, it becomes anonymous. We forget its message of healing and sustaining life in return for control and profit and, in turn, denying water access to the people who relied on it.
The Great Plains of Central America is home to one of the world’s largest aquifers – the Ogallala Aquifer.
This aquifer underlies parts of Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Unfortunately, agriculture in the area relies nearly exclusively on this aquifer for irrigation, extracting it much faster than replenishing it—a map on climate.gov details where water tables are declining everywhere in the region, except Nebraska. Following the 1930s Dust Bowl, a result of stressed soil and drought, farmers used irrigation techniques requiring heavy water usage and later enhanced crops with synthetic fertilizers, which further demanded water use. Regenerative agriculture practice, efficient irrigation practices, and drought-resistant crops can reverse the probability of a repeat of the Dust Bowl and depletion of the aquifer, but those changes need to happen now.
What exactly is an aquifer? The National Geographic Society defines an aquifer as a “body of rock or sediment saturated with groundwater. Groundwater enters an aquifer as precipitation seeps through the soil”. When we extract more water than we restore, the result is a depleted aquifer.
With the development of dams, cities, transference of water, and the destruction of trees that protect water, we are caught between advancement and honoring earth’s gifts. Yet, we can design around and in concert with these gifts when we remember our connection.
Lakota Mni Wakan expresses the feeling and acknowledgment of water’s importance and the spiritual elevation of water. Mni meaning “water” and Wakan “to make something live or make something die.”
Water is life within us and within the water is all life.
Note: I’d like to dedicate this post to my friend Krisanne Baker who has encouraged me and taught me over the years to honor and respect the water. And that there is much more to water than is visible to the naked eye. You can find her on Instagram Socio-Ecological ocean stewardship artist & educator