Great Lakes Commons

Visit the Great Lakes Commons website >>

Note: Photos on this page are from Milwaukee Water Commons' event "We Are Water" (Photography credit to Melanie Ariens).

The Great Lakes Commons is a grassroots effort to establish the Great Lakes as a living, thriving commons — shared waters that we all take care of and protect in perpetuity.

The Great Lakes Commons works to:
  • Awaken and restore our relationship to these incredible waters.
  • Activate a spirit of responsibility and citizenship in the bioregion.
  • Establish stewardship and governance that enables communities to protect these waters forever.

We believe there is hope in the wisdom and practice of commons and indigenous governance. Both are long-standing traditions, distinct yet each embodying a kindred attention to: care for the water, shared responsibility, equitable and sustainable use, a multi-generational perspective, the integrity of the eco-system, and participatory decision-making.

While this may feel like a long way from the way we govern the Lakes now, these commitments exist in our histories and cultures, our family and faith traditions, our public trust laws and many of our community practices. They reflect both scientific realities and our personal values about the significance of our Lakes.

We are creating a new Great Lakes Commons Charter to build on the best of traditions and build momentum for the Great Lakes to be lived and governed as a commons.

Who We Are

We are a growing and open network of people, organizations and institutions from the Great Lakes bioregion who care passionately about these remarkable bodies of water.

Great Lakes Commons was initiated and incubated as a project by On The Commons. A number of organizations and individuals from the U.S., Canada, and First Nations provided leadership and guidance from early on. These include the Council of Canadians, Blue Mountain Center, Detroit People's Water Board, Vermont Law School Environmental Law Center, Blue Planet Project, FLOW for Water, and Food and Water Watch.

Together we are environmentalists and scientists, recreationalists and teachers, urban and rural, Native and non-native, people of faith and artists, food growers and public health advocates — people like you who want to see the Lakes thrive for generations to come.

We are united in a desire to insure that they have a vibrant future and share a commitment to the long-term transformation of the care and governance of the Great Lakes. Leadership of the Great Lakes Commons reflects an unusual and promising alliance of people from across Nations, geographies, ancestries, and traditions.

We welcome the participation of anyone committed to a vibrant future for the Lakes.

Great Lakes Commons Charter

(View the charter)

Creating a Commons Charter for the Great Lakes will engage people and communities around the bioregion in laying the foundation for a Great Lakes Commons – all of us have a right to care and a role to play in creating a new future. The Charter gathers the beliefs and commitments of the different peoples of the bio-region; by doing this, we will be asserting the legitimacy of these ideas and our role in shaping the governance for our Lakes.

In essence, the GLC Charter is an organizing effort to build agreement and leadership for commons based governance in the Great Lakes. It will allow us to accomplish several things simultaneously:
  • to collaboratively develop and assert a set of guiding principles for the care of our waters;
  • to activate people in the region to take leadership in water stewardship in accordance with these principles;
  • to legitimize and lay groundwork for a commons approach to the governance of our waters (e.g. bio-regional, eco-system-based, multi-generational in perspective and empowering of local communities).

It can serve as a foundation for allied work across borders and Nations, as activists and everyday citizens. It draws on the complementary frameworks and practices of commons and indigenous governance, public trust doctrine, regional treaty rights and other congruent bodies of thought.

It gives us a way to “build the road by walking”, or in other words, to create the basis for new governance while we are organizing people to claim their rightful role in defining and leading it.

The charter process and product has been designed to build power, engagement, belonging, relationships, and a sense of responsibility for the water. The product is a written living document and embodies a new commons governing philosophy that these lakes are sacred, not-replaceable, and need to be restored and protected for all in perpetuity.

Ultimately, we envision the Charter becoming the defining framework for new governance for the Great Lakes.

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