Guardians of the River will give you tools and insights into water stewardship in relation to many iconic rivers worldwide including the Ganges, Beirut, Niger, Amazon, Fitzroy and Atrato. We will explore how every one of us can take responsibility for the world’s freshwaters, which are highly threatened by extractivism, climate change, pollution, and drought. We will explore what it means to cultivate kinship with rivers, and open up possibilities for engagement on both the personal and policy level.
The course brings together some of the world’s most influential water activists, including five Goldman Prize Winners and many Indigenous water guardians, from over 25 nations. You will learn vital aspects of river guardianship such as rights of rivers, rivercide, and riparian community-building.
Why this course?
Water is a living entity with whom we all have a deep relationship. Without water, there would be no life.
Repairing the water-human relationship is at the core of this collective online learning journey. How can we reconnect with water and understand our relationship with water bodies based on values of kinship?
Can we begin to shift away from perceiving water as a mere resource in service to the human project of capitalism? Can we begin to understand our relation to rivers as sources of life? As crucial as the air we breathe? Our aim is to understand the spiritual, ecological, cultural and legal aspects of river guardianship by listening and learning from skilled practitioners and experts from around the world who have lived experience and deep understanding of traditional water knowledge and global confluences of water activism.
Our approach to river guardianship
We emphasise the function of water as life, hence the need to restore relations between humans and rivers through biocentric values.
Our approach is based on a 3-way flow:
- We must take care of our own bodies (i.e. learn how to use water for our own physical and mental wellbeing);
- We must take care of physical and affective relations between humans through the interpersonal power of water (water kinship and community);
- We must extend that sense of familiarity and responsibility to the protection of water bodies in general (river guardianship).
Starting from a somatic perspective, we will explore how to take care of our own bodily self in the way we drink, cleanse, bathe, swim, move and flow; we will learn about water kinship and riparian community-building, and we will navigate how to extend that sense of care between humans to a sense of love and care for freshwaters (i.e. via river activism, advocacy, counter-current journalism, legal defence of river and water art).
In order to change, we need to become aware of how we are interacting with the world around us. Somatics and physical self-awareness is essential to breaking free from oppressive systems and stories that are either internal or external to ourselves. We think it’s important to start from this perspective as it allows us to ask questions such as, What if we were able to get to the root of cultural crises? What if we were able to transform cultures by transforming the ways in which we inhabited our bodies? What if such practises were accessible to all?
The course will focus on three key aspects of river guardianship:
- Rights of Rivers: personhood of rivers and legal entity for freshwaters, catchments and basins.
- Rivercide: remedying and seeking justice following the ecological death of rivers due to industrial activity, agribusiness, hydropower and chemical and plastic pollution (we will cover major challenges such as drought, floods, dams and canalisation).
- Riparian community building and activism: building riverside communities for regeneration, protection and custodianship of freshwaters.
The course is designed to change the way we understand our relationship to rivers in an age of ecological crisis, whether you see yourself working or interested in environmentalism, nature reconnection, community building, activism, eco-art, research, environmental law, advocacy, or are simply looking for inspiration.
Structure of the course
This 12-week course is structured as an exploration of interactive river biographies interspersed with a series of regional projects. In these sessions, stories of the environmental, social and political struggle and strategy to protect and restore river systems are woven together through talks and workshops followed by group reflection and debate. These sessions are interwoven with practical workshops to help better understand the somatic, physical and personal sources of human-water connection.
The core course material is accompanied and supported by 5 key actions:
- Join the Ganga River Parliament;
- Design a mural along the Beirut River;
- Join a pilgrimage along the Cuckmere in England, from Alfriston to Cuckmere Haven, where the river meets the ocean;
- Help draft a manifesto on Global Water Guardianship;
- Join your local river Trust or community group.