We Are Water Protectors

Illustrated by Michaela Goade

“We are stewards of the Earth / Our spirits have not been broken / We are water protectors. WE STAND!”

In this 2020 Caldecott award winner, a young Indigenous girl learns from her Grandmother that water is sacred. “Water is alive,” Grandmother says, “Water remembers our ancestors.” The book highlights water not just an important natural resource but as a sacred, living element that sustains and binds all together plants, animals, and humans. When the construction of an oil pipeline—depicted as a monstrous black snake—threatens to “spoil the water / poison plants and animals / destroy everything in its path” the girl rallies everyone to fight back. The challenge is “to stand for the water / to stand for the land / to stand as ONE / Against the black snake.” The fight will not be easy, but “We fight for those / who cannot fight for themselves: / The winged ones, / The crawling ones, / The four-legged, / The two-legged, / The plants, trees, rivers, lakes, / the Earth.” We fight because “We are all related.”

We Are Water Protectors is a vital and effective text for engaging young people in discussions about resource extraction and its consequences. The book is a very effective text for climate literacy education. It represents youth climate activism in general and Ojibwe/Anishinaabe climate activism in particular, the notion of Earth stewardship, today’s Indigenous-led climate movements in North America, and the power of intergenerational grassroots collective action to stand up for the biosphere and resist the state-sanctioned ecocide perpetrated by Big Oil. It reminds the audience that the contemporary ecocide (of pipeline expansions) is only the most recent form of colonial violence (see slow violence and environmental injustice) against the Indigenous people. It affirms that the Indigenous people have more experience than any other community about how and why we must protect Mother Earth. The book communicates that young people can and should stand up for water and all life currently threatened by the fossil fuels industry.

Beautifully illustrated to evoke rich symbolism around water as life and a sacred gift, the picturebook references specific, Indigenous-led climate movements such as the #NoDAPL movement and the activism of Water Protectors, Land Defenders, and Honor the Earth (against Enbridge’s Line 3 in Minnesota). The book shows how individuals, including children, need to find the courage for collective action; it highlights the wisdom of Indigenous knowledge that center our kinship with nature (see Indigneous/Kinship Worldview); and it stresses the urgency to fight the black snake NOW, before it is allowed to destroy our world. “We are water protectors. / WE STAND! / The black snake is in for the fight of its life.” This brilliant, climate activism-oriented book is a must read for each classroom.

©2021 ClimateLit (Lara Saguisag with later edits by Marek Oziewicz)

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Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2020

Pages: 40

Lexile Score: AD510L

ISBN: 978-1250203557

Audience: Ages 4-7

Format: Picturebooks

Science Standards: 4-ESS3-1

Topics: #NoDAPL Movement, Big Oil, Biosphere, Climate Literacy, Collective Climate Action, Earth Care, Earth Stewardship, Earth's Aliveness, Ecocide, Environmental Injustice, Extractivism, Fossil Fuels, Indigenous Environmental Practices, Indigenous Epistemology, Indigenous Worldview, Indigenous-led Climate Action, Interconnectedness, Kinship Care, Kinship Worldview, Land Defenders, Natural Resources, Oil, Oil Extraction, Pipelines, Slow Violence, Treaty People Gathering, Water Conservation, Water Pollution, Water Protectors, Youth Climate Activism