2021
August
12
Thursday

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 12, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Coaxing trust from the tap

Say I asked you to do a quick word association with the noun “water.” Would your first response be trust?

Maybe not. But that’s what’s fortified each day that you turn on the tap and get clean water. And that’s what erodes – along with a sense of governmental accountability and justice – if that turn of the faucet delivers something you wouldn’t bathe in, let alone drink.

What is the ripple effect of that? What does it mean for the social contract that undergirds functioning societies?

We’re asking those questions as we report a series of stories on the sharp disparities in access to clean water across North America. But we’re watching something else as well: how a rise in citizen engagement may help close those gaps.

Water and social well-being are intimately connected. Just think about the sense of betrayal in Flint, Michigan, over the switch to a contaminated water supply in 2014. Or listen to salon owner Felicia Brisco, who spoke with Xander Peters recently in Jackson, Mississippi, about the toll of turning away customers for lack of water. Or read Sara Miller Llana’s story today from Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario. As she reports, Indigenous communities are working to secure a voice in a new Canada Water Agency. What they bring, as scientist Ali Nazemi told Sara, is a “win-win” outlook, one that works with nature, and prioritizes fairness and agency.

Sara says that what struck her as she reported her story was how much work there is to do. But something else struck her as well: the opportunities, the possible paths forward. Those have long sat at the heart of our reporting. Xander puts it this way: “I ask everyone, ‘what does this mean for you?’ Yes, it’s a story about policy. But ultimately, it’s about our shared humanity.”

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Q&A

Sen. Tim Scott, GOP point person on police reform

What would police reform look like to a supporter of the police who has also experienced the sting of discrimination? For Sen. Tim Scott, it starts with not stereotyping anyone, including cops.

Amelia
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP
GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina speaks to reporters amid negotiations on the infrastructure bill on Capitol Hill in Washington Aug. 4, 2021.

Two ways to read the story

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  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

As the Senate’s sole Black Republican, Tim Scott has addressed incredulity about the prevalence of police discrimination, describing his own experiences from the Senate floor. Yet he also sees law enforcement as a “noble” profession. He’s been frank about racial issues, but has decried the political weaponization of race and declared that America is not a racist country. 

Last year, Democrats blocked his police reform bill in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, saying it didn’t go far enough. In recent months, Senator Scott of South Carolina and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey have been working together on new legislation. 

He sat down with the Monitor last week to discuss his vision for police reform and justice in America at a time of national reckoning – or, as he puts it, a national “wave of opportunity.”

“I don’t know that you can actually just put your sense of humiliation and disrespect in a corner and it doesn’t filter in,” Senator Scott says. “But you can have some really negative interactions [with police] and come to the conclusion that stereotyping them all is kind of like them stereotyping me.”

Sen. Tim Scott, GOP point person on police reform

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Sen. Tim Scott’s vivid socks stand out in a sea of black and gray on Capitol Hill, and so do his views on police reform. 

As the Senate’s sole Black Republican, he has addressed incredulity about the prevalence of police discrimination, detailing his own experiences from the Senate floor – including being held up by police on Capitol Hill, where senators normally move freely through security checkpoints without showing ID. 

Yet he also sees law enforcement as a “noble” profession. That’s shaped in part by having watched the sons of his influential youth mentor, a white Chick-fil-A operator, become police officers. And as someone raised by a single mother, whose safety he worried about as she would return home late at night from work, Senator Scott places a premium on safeguarding communities. He opposes defunding the police, taking particular issue with liberal activists who didn’t grow up in poor minority communities like his.

The senator from South Carolina, the grandson of an illiterate cotton picker who in 2014 became the first African American elected from the South to the U.S. Senate, has been frank about racial issues. He called out former President Donald Trump on numerous occasions – and won his support for spurring $75 billion worth of investment in low-income “opportunity zones.” Yet he has also decried the political weaponization of race and declared that America is not a racist country, prompting critics to call him an “Uncle Tim” or “house Negro.” 

Last year, Senate Democrats blocked his police reform bill in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, saying it didn’t go far enough. In recent months, Senator Scott and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a Democrat, have been working on new police reform legislation. They agreed to a framework for police reform in June, together with Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, who spearheaded passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in the House earlier this year. The senators are still chipping away at the details of their bill.

Senator Scott sat down with the Monitor in hot pink socks to discuss his vision for police reform and justice in America at a time of national reckoning – or, as he puts it, a national “wave of opportunity.” 

The questions and answers that follow have been condensed, and lightly edited for clarity. 

What has given you empathy for police officers?

This really is not only a noble profession when done right; it’s also a mission. 

When I was a senior in high school, I fell asleep driving my car down Interstate 26, flipped over, and went through the windshield. I remember lying on the side of the road, and a highway patrolman walked up to me to give me a little comfort and tell me things were going to be OK. That sticks in my mind – the power of an officer’s ability to do good, to show empathy in really hard times. 

And then I’m also educated and informed by the number of traffic stops I've been involved in where I'm just driving while Black. So, I have to weigh all that information through a filter of honesty and try to come up with solutions that address the issue fairly.

On a personal level, how have you worked through the anger and humiliation that many would feel in the face of police discrimination, in a way that doesn’t seem to have tainted your view of America?

What I shared on the [Senate] floor was a lifetime of really bad experiences. And at the same time I think having perspective about it all is really important. I don't know that you can actually just put your sense of humiliation and disrespect in a corner and it doesn't filter in. ... But you can have some really negative interactions and come to the conclusion that stereotyping them all is kind of like them stereotyping me.

I remember talking at the National Action Network run by Rev. [Al] Sharpton about being followed around a clothing store by this young lady. I have good peripheral vision because I used to be a running back, and I see her coming and I thought she was maybe someone who wanted to take a picture. (I was a senator at this time.) She was actually just making sure I wasn’t stealing anything. 

I said, “How many of y’all understand that?” They were all frustrated; you could feel the temperature going up. I said, “That’s exactly how a Republican feels when you walk into a room like this, because everybody’s stereotyping,” and they were like, “Oh, you got us.” 

We should all understand the sting of being stereotyped. So if I don’t want to stereotype, if I don’t want Black people to be stereotyped, and if I don’t want Republicans to be stereotyped, why would I stereotype all cops? It’s just unhelpful.

How do you think we as a country can achieve real justice, and do forgiveness and reconciliation play a role?

It's a good question. I will say that you cannot wait until you have justice to have forgiveness. I think about Charleston’s Mother Emanuel church shooting [in 2015] – 36 hours later, there was no justice ... but those nine family representatives all said [to the shooter], “We forgive you.” 

The path to justice does require reconciliation, but not one party to the other, but within one’s own heart. 

The justice system that we have here in America becoming more fair is really important. And that means being able to have self-awareness as a country. George Floyd brought that to us in a way that nothing else has in my lifetime. You heard and felt and sensed that people understood that the inconsistent application of our justice system leads to real dysfunction amongst our people.

In your book “Opportunity Knocks,” you talk about wanting to positively impact a billion people with a message of hope and opportunity. That’s obviously far more people than live in the United States. Do you see your work on police reform as helping not only our American family, as you call it, but also our global family?

Forgive me for being naive, but I do think who we are as Americans sets the pace for the rest of the world. I want to make sure that we export the best of who we are, for the rest of the world to see, and that includes our justice system.

What does it say when you can measure the outcomes by the color of your skin? It says something bad, or at least insidious.

To the extent that we’re able to improve the overall effectiveness of our justice system is to improve the overall fairness of our justice system. I feel like I’m called to that.

I want a fair justice system, but not one that seeks to discriminate against somebody else for the discrimination of the past. ... That’s not fair either. 

Speaking of feeling called, you considered going into the ministry at least twice, yet felt led to stick with politics. At this time of national reckoning, do you see yourself as ministering to a need for healing in our country?

I hope so. I have been intentional about that part. ... I want to be a bridge builder among the races. I've always felt that was part of my calling as well. 

From my vantage point, healing is an individual thing, more than a group thing. I do think sometimes we want an apology, especially on the racial front, for healing to begin. I think that’s probably not as helpful as we think it is. I think what’s helpful is for us to change the future, not the past.

A deeper look

Partition’s legacy transcends India-Pakistan border. Can commemoration?

Partition left deep scars in present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, but few ways to commemorate it across borders. Now, after three-quarters of a century, the internet is creating new spaces to remember, mourn – and heal.

Amelia
AP/File
Muslim refugees crowd onto a train bound for Pakistan, as it leaves the New Delhi area on Sept, 27, 1947. Millions of people were uprooted from their homes amid the division of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, after gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 9 Min. )

As the British left India in 1947, they left a territory divided in two, and pain that has lasted generations. The land’s Partition into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan led to the deaths of perhaps 1 million people, and up to 20 million displaced – not to mention the bloodshed of Bangladesh’s independence, in 1971.

It’s a past that’s ever-present, hanging over diplomatic tensions, religiously motivated violence, and inherited family traumas. But Partition has no memorial accessible to the people of the three affected countries. And now, digital spaces offer what was previously unimaginable: a place to collectively share stories, mourn, and heal.

“It may take a lifetime – or several lifetimes – to really engage with these stories, but remembrance is vital to deal with the communal issues across South Asia,” says Guneeta Singh Bhalla, founder of the 1947 Partition Archives, a digital collection of crowdsourced stories.

Many participants find themselves unpacking memories not quite their own – understanding parents’ and grandparents’ experiences in a new light.

“Because of the enormity of the event, you would be hard-pressed to find someone from India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh who doesn’t have any connection at all – even if it’s not a direct connection – to the Partition,” says Shaili Jain, a psychiatrist at Stanford University.

Partition’s legacy transcends India-Pakistan border. Can commemoration?

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Salman Rashid and Mohinder Pratab Sehgal had an unlikely friendship. It struck immediately after they met and lasted until Mr. Sehgal died. After all, the two had been looking for each other all their lives.

In 2008, Mr. Rashid set out from his home in Lahore, Pakistan, carrying a photo of his grandfather’s house in Jalandhar, India. The 80-mile journey might seem simple, for an acclaimed travel writer like Mr. Rashid, but this was a deeply personal quest. His father and some other relatives had survived the Partition, the violent end of British India in 1947. But there were no answers as to how his grandparents had died, or what had happened to his aunts. No one had heard from the women since the subcontinent’s division into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan – which led to the largest mass migration the world has ever witnessed.

There was complete silence in his house about Partition. Nobody ever talked about it. All that was passed on to Mr. Rashid was that the family must have died, because there were no Muslims left in Jalandhar. So he set off to find the answers himself.

As the British left India, after 200 years of rule, they left a territory divided in two, and pain that has lasted generations. How to divide this land was a decision made in five weeks by British lawyer Cyril Radcliffe on his first – and only – visit to India. Almost immediately, communal riots broke out among Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims who had lived together for centuries. Perhaps 1 million people died, and up to 20 million were displaced, though estimates vary. Women paid the highest price, with mass abductions, forced conversions, and rape.

This month marks 74 years since the Partition few imagined would last forever. Fleeing across the brand-new borders seemed temporary, survivors say – it was incomprehensible that they could never go home. But not only did it last; a quarter century later, the region was further divided, with further bloodshed, when East Pakistan became independent Bangladesh.

Courtesy of Salman Rashid
Salman Rashid (right) and Mohinder Pratab Sehgal stand on the rooftop of Mr. Rashid's ancestral home in Jalandhar, India. Though family tragedy brought them together, the two men became friends.

Like Mr. Rashid’s, many families tried to put the pain of Partition behind them. But the crisis is ever-present, its legacy everywhere from India and Pakistan’s constant tensions, to last year’s mob violence against Muslims in New Delhi. And now, digital spaces offer what was previously unimaginable: a place to collectively commemorate the shared pain and intrinsically connected histories of the people of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, who are geographically close, yet so far apart that to visit each other’s countries is a dream many die with.

“It may take a lifetime – or several lifetimes – to really engage with these stories, but remembrance is vital to deal with the communal issues across South Asia,” says Guneeta Singh Bhalla, founder of the 1947 Partition Archives, a digital collection of crowdsourced stories about Partition’s legacy.

“I have to ask forgiveness”

Unlike the Holocaust or world wars, the millions of dead and displaced of the Partition have no memorial that is accessible to the people of the three affected countries. There is no remembrance day, and it took 70 years for the first museum to open up in Amritsar, India.

Ms. Bhalla, who lives in the United States, is a third-generation survivor herself. It was at a Hiroshima memorial in Japan that she realized there was nothing to document the stories of Partition survivors, her grandmother among them, and she started her journey to record oral histories. Today, the 1947 Partition Archives has more than 10,000 stories from survivors in more than 700 cities around the world.

As much of the world went into lockdown, the archives launched Facebook Live sessions titled “Sunday Stories,” where academics, writers, and historians from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh discussed the myriad ways Partition shaped South Asia. Last month, during the series’ second season, Mr. Rashid spoke of going “home” to Jalandhar, a city he had never seen but always felt was his. Here he found his ancestral house, where six decades later, the neighborhood still remembered his grandfather with reverence, as “our doctor sahib.”

Like picking up clues left on a trail, Mr. Rashid made his way from person to person, looking for someone who would have the answers he was looking for. One day, the shopkeeper working below his grandfather’s house explained there was someone in the neighborhood who wanted to see Mr. Rashid, too – Mr. Sehgal, who had been just 13 at Partition. But as soon as the men met, Mr. Rashid recalls, the stranger erupted into an apology: “First of all, I have to ask forgiveness, for it was my father’s mistake.”

Courtesy of Salman Rashid
Salman Rashid’s ancestral home in Jalandhar, India. In 2008, Mr. Rashid set out with a photo of the house, hoping to learn more about what had happened to his grandparents and aunts during the Partition of India.

It took 61 years for Mr. Rashid to know that his aunts had been killed, and that it was Mr. Sehgal’s father who killed them. Twelve family members had died, shot in the room where they were hiding, their bodies eventually piled up on a pushcart and cremated.

For all his life, Mr. Sehgal had carried his father’s guilt, and Mr. Rashid, his father’s pain. There was no real explanation, except, as he remembers Mr. Sehgal telling him, “It was a time of great madness.”

Mr. Sehgal died several years ago, but not before the two men’s tragic connection grew into a genuine friendship. The killings were almost a shared loss – a bond. Mr. Rashid and his wife made several more trips to India, meeting their new friend each time with presents from Pakistan in tow. Both men, in Mr. Rashid’s eyes, were victims of Partition.

Past is present

Despite the nationalism that rages in all three countries today, comments below the “Sunday Stories” videos mostly show similar warmth, connection, and acknowledgment of shared pain. Viewership has grown from 150,000 last year, Ms. Bhalla says, to more than 400,000.

“What I find in Partition survivors is that they were so preoccupied in the day-to-day that processing the psychological trauma was a luxury,” says Shaili Jain, a psychiatrist at Stanford University. “If the original generation didn’t do it, then someone had to do it, that’s my belief as a PTSD specialist.”

The trajectory of Dr. Jain’s life itself has been directly affected by the Partition. Her grandfather too was killed in the riots of ’47, leaving her father orphaned and a refugee at the age of 10. Unable to find enough opportunities in India, he moved to England, where Dr. Jain was born and raised. “Because of the enormity of the event, you would be hard-pressed to find someone from India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh who doesn’t have any connection at all – even if it’s not a direct connection – to the Partition,” she says. “The 1947 Partition really changed the trajectory of my family’s destiny.”

Although it’s been more than seven decades, the Partition is barely an event of the past. Its presence is not only seen in the second and third generation’s quest to know more, but also in the continued acts of religiously motivated violence seen across South Asia.

Mohsin Raza/Reuters/File
A huge crowd of Pakistani and Indian residents gathers to watch the Pakistani (right) and Indian border security forces perform their daily flag-lowering ceremonies at the Wagah border post between the rival nations on July 12, 2001. More than half a century after the hasty partition of the Asian subcontinent by departing British colonialists, relations between India and Pakistan are still tense.

“With unprocessed trauma, you enter these cycles of reenactment, and this may not even be on a conscious level. But to me, the communal violence in South Asia is historical, generational, deep-rooted trauma that hasn’t been processed,” Dr. Jain adds. “And when trauma is not processed, it manifests as hate, as shame, as rage, as guilt, and those emotions have to go somewhere. Until we fully reconcile with that past, understand it, and heal from it, then such countries are just beholden to repeated cycles of violence.”

While Zoom has helped discussions go beyond borders, the digital space has not been entirely free. Last March, one of Pakistan’s leading universities organized a conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, bringing together scholars from both countries. Within hours of the conference schedule being shared on social media, it was canceled without explanation, widely interpreted as an act of self-censorship.

In spite of these circumstances, activists in Pakistan have carried on. The country’s leading feminist organization, the Women’s Action Forum (WAF), organized an online event on March 25, 2021, the day that marks the Pakistan army’s Operation Searchlight in what was then East Pakistan. The day after – March 26, 1971 – Bangladesh declared its independence.

During the following nine-month military operation by the Pakistan army, nearly 500,000 people were killed. Estimates of rape vary between thousands and a few hundred thousands.

“I don’t want to write or think about those days,” said Amena Mohsin, a professor at Dhaka University, recalling her memories of the time at the WAF event. She was visibly shaken as she read her sister’s letter from their days in an internment camp in Pakistan, where they were prisoners in a state that was once theirs.

“It took me 47 years to write about 1971,” she said.

And it had taken 50 years for Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis to come together in an inclusive space and share the grief – and guilt – they carried.

Bangladeshi scholars remembered the noise of the crows on the night of March 25, when “rivers of blood flew” and “bodies were strewn everywhere.” In a chat box, meanwhile, Pakistanis were sharing how much they wanted to apologize, with comments of how people had come together even in the worst of times, how a Hindu cook saved his Muslim employer’s life. In many Zoom windows, people just listened and cried.

Living memory

I was sitting in my Zoom window, too, dialing in from Islamabad. This was the closest I’d come to hearing direct accounts of the genocide. Though born more than a decade later, I inherited from my mother the guilt of this war. She first heard about the breakup of her country, Pakistan, through the All India Radio that could be heard from her neighbor’s house. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was addressing the Indian Parliament, which had supported the Bengalis, and declaring victory. 

For three days of mourning, no food was cooked at their home. But when recounting better memories, my mother often talks about her uncle’s house, in present-day Bangladesh. This house was by the river in Khulna, and sometimes water would come up to the garden. And then there were nights when one could hear the bansuri player late into the night as the full moon shined over the river. I can picture this house so well that it feels like a reliable memory, as is often the nature of stories we’ve heard all our lives.

Max Desfor/AP/File
A still-burning building stands amid the ruins of other buildings at the Bhatti Gate in the walled section of Lahore, in present-day Pakistan, on June 23, 1947, amid communal violence over the Partition of India.

That was the Bangladesh on my mind as I listened, along with nearly 200 other people, to stories of the war that in many ways were all our stories.

“I was surprised how few of the Pakistanis knew about the internment camps that we had grown up hearing stories of all our lives. What is forgotten is what we have to tend to,” says Dina Siddqi, a professor at New York University who attended the WAF event.

Later, via NYU’s website, she hosted the conference that had been canceled in Pakistan. “Zoom has really transcended national borders,” said Professor Siddiqi, who studies gender and religion in Bangladesh, sharing how Pakistani and Bangladeshi scholars had come together to make it happen despite the backlash.

The event led to a shift within her, she says. “I would like to think of myself as someone who has transcended nationalist baggage, but it was during the conference that things began to resonate with me that I hadn’t emotionally explored. These conferences are opening up emotional spaces that I didn’t know existed.”

The stories she had grown up with came back like they hadn’t before: a cousin who had escaped an internment camp, making his way from Islamabad to Kabul in the rough winter months; a dear uncle who had died very young, after time as a prisoner of war in Pakistan.

“I had heard these stories all my life, yet during the conference I kept thinking of my uncle,” she says. “My aunt would always say that he died because the Pakistanis made him march in the hot desert sun for 10 hours. That kept coming back for me; I don’t know where it came from but all I could think of was that.”

I was surprised at how raw the wounds of an unwitnessed past felt for me – even in the simple, stark realization that this was the first time I had heard someone speak Bangla, the language of people who were once my own.

My brother and I were both tuned in – he in Berlin, I in Islamabad.

“Isn’t Bangla beautiful?” I texted him.

“Gorgeous,” he said.

Canada gets serious about water woes. Will Indigenous voices be heard?

In our third story in our series on water and justice, we take you to Canada, a resource-rich country that nonetheless faces threats to its water. The dawn of a new water agency has put a fresh focus on the role that Indigenous people can play in solutions.

Amelia
Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Two people take a canoe out on the Grand River from Chiefswood Park in Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario, July 17, 2021. The Grand River runs right through the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, and some advocates want an Indigenous research arm of the Canada Water Agency in this territory.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Canada holds 20% of the world’s fresh water supply. It has more lakes than any country in the world. But the “myth of abundance” has been accompanied by complacency. 

“We have many, many crises. We have very lax laws in Canada,” says Maude Barlow, author of a book on the issue. “We have not protected our groundwater properly.”

The aim of a new Canada Water Agency, which is expected to be running by 2022, is to modernize water policy amid pressures from climate change. But proponents say it is also an opportunity to put Indigenous communities at the heart of governance – restoring agency and fairness in water policy while also making smarter policy. 

“Right now we don’t have any voice whatsoever in water governance,” says Dawn Martin-Hill, a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River and a founder of a water research organization.

“For Canada, our multigenerational challenge is understanding the new relationship that we’re trying to create with our Indigenous people,” says Rob de Loë, an expert on environmental governance at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. “There’s no discussion of the future of water in Canada without really clarifying that relationship.”

Canada gets serious about water woes. Will Indigenous voices be heard?

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Makaśa Looking Horse has been protecting the water since she was a child – as part of her spiritual beliefs, in protest against Nestlé’s extraction of water from her nation’s traditional land, and today as a youth advocate of Ohneganos, an Indigenous water research project that, in the Cayuga language, means “water is life.”

She doesn’t consider herself an activist. “It’s more like my way of life. And I do it every single day,” she says. It was passed down from her parents. “But it doesn’t stop there. My grandmothers and my ancestors, that’s what they always did, too. So it’s not just me and my activism in a little compartment. It’s me and my whole lineage and my people and my way of life, of always protecting the water.” 

Yet it’s exactly that worldview that has been missing in Canadian water policy. “Right now we don’t have any voice whatsoever in water governance,” says Dawn Martin-Hill, Ms. Looking Horse’s mother, who began Ohneganos as an Indigenous scholar at McMaster University.

That’s why they are on the front lines of a new water fight in Canada: securing equal standing in the emergence of the new Canada Water Agency (CWA). 

The aim of the CWA, which is expected to be running by 2022, is to modernize water policy in Canada amid myriad pressures facing the nation from climate change. But its proponents say it is also an opportunity to put Indigenous communities at the heart of governance – restoring agency and fairness in water policy but also making smarter policy.

It comes at a time when the government, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has been seeking reconciliation with Indigenous communities, and may be a model for new nation-to-nation approaches required by law. This June, Canada passed a bill that requires Canadian law to be aligned with the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which recognizes Indigenous sovereignty over decisions that affect their interests.

“For Canada, our multigenerational challenge is understanding the new relationship that we’re trying to create with our Indigenous people,” says Rob de Loë, an expert on water and global environmental governance at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. “There’s no discussion of the future of water in Canada without really clarifying that relationship.”

“We have not protected our groundwater”

Canada holds 20% of the world’s fresh water supply. It has more lakes than any country in the world. If you live near the Great Lakes, water can seem limitless. But “a myth of abundance,” as it’s often called, has led to complacency. Despite Canada’s vast fresh water share, it holds only about 6.5% of the renewable global water supply.

“We have many, many crises. We have very lax laws in Canada,” says Maude Barlow, author of “Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis.” “We have not protected our groundwater properly.”

From pollution to gaps in access to drinking water, the challenges often fall hardest on citizens in disadvantaged communities. 

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Brenda Greene, right, says she heads out on the Grand River to fish every weekend she can, and would welcome an entity like a Canada Water Agency to ensure water remains clean. "Water is life," she says.

One of Canada’s worst failings at home is that not all Indigenous reserves have access to clean running water. At present across Canada, the government notes 32 First Nations under long-term water advisories, meaning their water is unsafe to drink. Mr. Trudeau had promised clean water to all Indigenous communities by March of this year, and while some 108 advisories have been lifted since 2015, the government missed its deadline. 

Six Nations of the Grand River, whose traditional land spans six miles on either side of the Grand River (granted for their allyship with the British Crown during the American Revolution), doesn’t have a long-term advisory because a water treatment plant was built in 2013. But it only serves about 10% of the community – because the infrastructure to pipe the water to everyone doesn’t exist.

To Dr. Martin-Hill and Ms. Looking Horse, this is unacceptable. They also worry about contaminants detected in the river. Dr. Martin-Hill has advocated for an Indigenous arm of a future CWA to be housed at Six Nations, where a cluster of surrounding universities have been working on water justice as has the community itself, including the Ohneganos project. 

“There’s all these fragments working and doing amazing work with very little support or resources. And something like an Indigenous arm could pull all that together and make really good decisions,” she says. 

Questions about a new agency

Currently water issues are regulated by the Canada Water Act, which dates back more than five decades to when climate change was not pressing. And water responsibilities are highly fragmented, spanning six entities and sometimes up to 20 at just the federal level, says John Pomeroy, Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change and director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Globe Water Futures research program. 

Dr. Pomeroy set in motion the Canada Water Agency in 2014, when he handed a two-page proposal to Mr. Trudeau, then only leader of the Liberal Party and not yet prime minister, to create an overarching entity that could integrate river basin management and data so that all Canadians share a full view of water quality and quantity, to be able to predict and forecast water shortages and water quality problems. 

“We’ve seen the benefits of having the Public Health Agency of Canada being in place when the pandemic hit, it’s hard to imagine how things would have been without one,” Dr. Pomeroy says. “But I’m in a hurry. I see all the water problems, and I would include the fires in British Columbia as part of our water problems. ... So we need this agency yesterday, because it’s one of our principal ways of dealing with the impacts of climate change in this country.”

Canada is warming at twice the global average rate, and in parts of northern Canada the rate is three times the average. In recent years, the nation has contended with more intense forest fires, drought cycles, and mid-winter flooding. 

The CWA is still in very early stages, without a budget, staffing, or headquarters. Canada in 2021 budgeted $17.4 million to Environment and Climate Change Canada to support work with the provinces, territories, and Indigenous communities on the agency’s scope and mandate. Public consultations wrapped up in March, while they are ongoing with Indigenous communities. The ECCC says to date it has informed 113 Indigenous nations and organizations about engagement with the Canada Water Agency, with 9 participating in fiscal year 2020-2021, according to an ECCC spokesperson.

Terry Duguid, the government’s lead on the CWA, says a central focus is bringing Indigenous voices into the discussion, including blending Western science and traditional Indigenous knowledge. “Indigenous governments and communities haven’t really been at the table when it comes to water management in our country. And they have often been the ones that have borne the brunt of water related impacts,” says Mr. Duguid, a Liberal parliamentarian from Winnipeg.

“Water is everything; it is life”

Brenda Greene, who lives on the Six Nations reserve, says she worries about the quality of the water for future generations. 

On a recent Saturday she is heading out on the river to fish for bass, like she grew up doing. But she fears the fish aren’t as healthy as they once were. “Water is everything; it is life,” she says. 

Indigneous communities have won hard-fought rights in recent years, including control over child welfare policies in many jurisdictions. But water rights have remained elusive and this is a chance to right that, says Merrell-Ann Phare, a lawyer and activist for Indigenous environmental rights.

Ms. Phare worries that the CWA will resort to the status quo if Indigenous governments don’t design it from the ground up, starting now. “You don’t design an institution and then invite people to it if you want reconciliation,” she says. “If we want to solve the water problem together, we build the institutions together and then we implement the institution together. We’re accountable for the institution. Together – we share in its success together.” 

Staff writer Ryan Yu in Toronto contributed research to this article. Read the first and second articles in our water and justice series.

Film

‘The Lost Leonardo’ pulls back the curtain on greed in the art world

Honor the artist, not the price tag. That’s the plea film critic Peter Rainer makes in his review of “The Lost Leonardo,” a new documentary that he finds fascinating in its unraveling of a mystery.

Amelia

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The infamous “Salvator Mundi” painting is the focus of the fascinating documentary “The Lost Leonardo,” a movie that scrutinizes the often corrupt crossroads of art and commerce.

The oil painting – the title is Latin for “Savior of the World” – was unceremoniously discovered in 2005 in a nondescript New Orleans auction house by a pair of art dealers, who bought it for $1,175. It depicts Jesus Christ making the sign of the cross in his right hand and holding a transparent crystal orb in his left. The dealers conjectured they had stumbled upon a “sleeper” – a painting worth a great deal more than originally thought. Could this be the famous Leonardo painting supposedly lost to history?

Ultimately, in 2017 at a Christie’s auction, it racked up the highest sale of any artwork in history – $450 million – primarily because, despite much contention among art experts, many chose to believe it was indeed a true Leonardo.

The director, Andreas Koefoed, lucidly lays out how the “Salvator Mundi” achieved its outsize reputation. What soon becomes clear is that we are watching a case history of the politics of greed. 

‘The Lost Leonardo’ pulls back the curtain on greed in the art world

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Adam Jandrup/Sony Pictures Classics
Art dealers Robert Simon (left) and Alexander Parish, who originally discovered the “Salvator Mundi,” stand alongside the painting in a scene from the documentary “The Lost Leonardo.”

The infamous “Salvator Mundi” painting is the focus of the fascinating documentary “The Lost Leonardo,” a movie that scrutinizes the often corrupt crossroads of art and commerce.

The oil painting – the title is Latin for “Savior of the World” – was unceremoniously discovered in 2005 in a nondescript New Orleans auction house by a pair of art dealers, who bought it for $1,175. It depicts Jesus Christ making the sign of the cross in his right hand and holding a transparent crystal orb in his left. The dealers conjectured they had stumbled upon a “sleeper” – a painting worth a great deal more than originally thought. Could this be the famous Leonardo painting supposedly lost to history rather than just another extant copy by one of his students or followers?

Ultimately, in 2017 at a Christie’s auction in New York, it racked up the highest sale of any artwork in history – $450 million – primarily because, despite much contention among art experts, many chose to believe it was indeed a true Leonardo. The mysterious buyer turned out to be Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, later implicated in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Its previous owner was a Russian billionaire oligarch with connections to a Swiss financier who kept the painting locked, tax-free, in a Geneva vault. 

The director, Andreas Koefoed, lucidly lays out how the “Salvator Mundi” achieved its outsize reputation. What soon becomes clear is that we are watching a case history of the politics of greed. On some level, it didn’t even matter that the painting might not be a real Leonardo. What attracted museumgoers and curators and buyers was its fabulous renown.

Not that there weren’t respected art historians who vouched for the painting’s authenticity, even though in its initial condition it was severely damaged and overpainted. Starting in 2006, Dianne Modestini, a leading authority in New York and a true believer, spent several years restoring it to a presentable state. Two years later, London’s National Gallery convened a series of global experts to carefully inspect it and, although the verdict was at best cautiously favorable, the gallery nevertheless controversially included it in a blockbuster Leonardo exhibition in 2011.  

Still, no museum was willing to buy the painting, perhaps because there were too many unanswered questions surrounding it. The painting’s provenance – its history of ownership dating back to the Renaissance – was too murky.

And then there were the naysayers, who derided the painting as not even good art, let alone a Leonardo. Art critic Jerry Saltz, one of the most vocal deriders in the film, calls it “a made-up piece of junk.” Modestini’s extensive restorations were thought to constitute as much as 90% of the final portrait. And yet Christie’s, dubbing it “the male Mona Lisa,” staged sold-out pre-auction showings in high-end markets like Hong Kong, London, San Francisco, and New York, and engineered a superslick ad campaign featuring people, including Leonardo DiCaprio, oohing and aahing the image.

We are made privy to an ecosystem in which art is employed as collateral, a tradable commodity, perhaps even, as investigated by the FBI’s Art Crime Team, a way to launder money. The documentary also depicts the ways regimes like Saudi Arabia use famous artworks to achieve instant cultural cachet on the world stage.

And what of the artwork itself? After a dust-up between the Saudi crown prince and the Louvre in 2018 ended any prospect of a museum showing, no one knows where the “Salvator Mundi” currently resides – a free port Swiss vault or the crown prince’s yacht are the likeliest candidates. So the painting cannot be viewed by the very people who might best appreciate it. As this film amply demonstrates, in the highest realms of commerce, wielding power is paramount. 

And yet, what stayed with me after I left the movie was a reaffirmation of how great art, in all its many manifestations, has the power to move us and change our way of seeing, even our lives. If I could issue a plea, it would be this: Honor the artist, not the price tag. 

Peter Rainer is the Monitor’s film critic. “The Lost Leonardo” is available in select theaters starting Aug. 13. It is rated PG-13 for images of art containing nudity. 

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Israel’s gesture for Palestinian homes

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One mark of a healthy democracy is how much its majority accommodates and protects minority interests. Since June, Israel’s democracy has been very healthy, a result of eight parties joining in a rare coalition and forming a government that operates by consensus. Now that spirit may be extending to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, home to an often-violent contest over land that pits Palestinian aspirations for an independent state against Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.

In a significant gesture to Palestinian interests, the new government gave initial approval Wednesday to the construction of 863 housing units in Palestinian villages in the West Bank for the first time in years. Previous governments had long denied building permits for Palestinians in what is called Area C, which makes up about 60% of the West Bank.

That move could open a door for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to resume negotiations over the future of the West Bank. Like any democracy, Israel must someday deal with the need for pluralism and tolerance between Jews and Palestinians.

Israel’s new and diverse ruling coalition has taken a step toward that democratic necessity.

Israel’s gesture for Palestinian homes

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Reuters
Palestinian demonstrators confront Israeli forces during a protest against Israeli settlements, near Tubas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 27.

One mark of a healthy democracy is how much its majority accommodates and protects minority interests. Since June, Israel’s democracy has been very healthy, a result of eight parties joining in a rare coalition and forming a government that operates by consensus. The new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, promised “to do all we can so that no one should have to feel afraid.” Indeed, last month, this grouping of parties from the far-left to the far-right – as well as an Arab party – was able to agree on a national budget, an elusive target in Israeli politics.

Now that spirit may be extending to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, home to an often-violent contest over land that pits Palestinian aspirations for an independent state against Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.

In a significant gesture to Palestinian interests, the new government gave initial approval Wednesday to the construction of 863 housing units in Palestinian villages in the West Bank for the first time in years. Previous governments had long denied building permits for Palestinians in what is called Area C, which makes up about 60% of the West Bank.

While West Bank Palestinians are not Israeli citizens, they rely very much on the actions of Israeli democracy. (About 20% of citizens within Israel are Arabs, a term used to distinguish them from Arab Palestinians.) Most of the new homes will be near the city of Jenin, which has seen deadly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops this year.

Before he became prime minister, Mr. Bennett was a champion of building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and an opponent of Palestinian building in Area C. But the new democratic spirit and a need to deal with the Biden administration may have helped change his position. After a recent visit to Israel by a top American official, the State Department said the United States sought “to advance equal measures of freedom, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

To be sure, the plan for new Palestinian homes includes at least 1,000 new Jewish residences in the West Bank. But with Mr. Bennett due to meet President Joe Biden at the White House in coming weeks, the Israeli coalition felt some pressure to accommodate Palestinian interests for new homes.

That move could open a door for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to resume negotiations over the future of the West Bank. Like any democracy, Israel must someday deal with the need for pluralism and tolerance between Jews and Palestinians. Even within Israel, the issue is similar. As Israel’s recent president, Reuven Rivlin, once asked, “Do we share a common denominator of values with the power to link all these sectors together in the Jewish and democratic State of Israel?”

The test of his challenge is now playing out anew in the West Bank, where both Jews and Palestinians must eventually learn to accommodate and protect each other’s interests for the sake of a greater good. Israel’s new and diverse ruling coalition has taken a step toward that democratic necessity.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Tackling climate change through prayer

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The recently released United Nations report on climate change is one of both warning and hope. Each of us can let God inspire in us the love, peace of mind, and wisdom that help us play our part in caring for the planet.

Tackling climate change through prayer

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

This week, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that conveyed an urgent need to address climate change. Another key takeaway of the report is one of hope: that dire outcomes aren’t inevitable. (For more about the IPCC’s report, check out “Climate report: Hope is not lost, but ‘we need to move faster,’” CSMonitor.com, Aug. 10, 2021.)

We’ve compiled some pieces from The Christian Science Publishing Society’s archives that highlight the value of prayer in tackling climate issues. Within each one you’ll find ideas to inspire your own prayers and actions to improve our environment and nurture hope and healing in the world around us.

Expanding your footprint in a helpful way” explores how expressing our God-given goodness enables each of us to contribute to the improvement of our environment.

The whole world in His hands” is a short (5-minute) podcast on how we can face fears of climate change with spiritual poise and a greater expectancy of finding solutions.

In “Caring spiritually for our human environment,” a man shares how a spiritual perspective of nature brought hope for sustainable solutions to environmental issues – and also freed him from recurring pain and breathing difficulties associated with smog in his city.

The author of “Lazarus and the biosphere” explores the relevance of lessons from Jesus’ healing ministry to contemporary environmental problems.

In “Climate change, politics, and prayer,” a former federal policy advisor shares inspiration that played a key role in her work on bipartisan climate change legislation.

“When we have the willingness to cast out of our own thinking sin, fear, even worldly mortal opinions, condemnations, and prophecies,” an engineering professor writes in “A divinely scientific solution to climate change,” “then our consciousness – now reflecting the divine Mind – can bring real change through our prayers, empowered as they are by our reflected love for humanity and our earth.”

The author of “How can we pray for our environment?” considers how an understanding of God’s care for His universe helps us become more open to solutions to environmental issues.

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Trekking to greener pastures

Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone/AP
A flock of sheep crosses alpine terrain on Aug. 12, 2021, under the Falknis peak – 2,562 meters (or 8,405 feet) above sea level – in Flaesch, Switzerland. During the so-called Schafuebergang, 1,400 sheep wander from one meadow to the other, crossing on a steep, narrow alpine trail.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thanks for reading the Daily today. Tomorrow, we’ll go to the island of Evia, Greece, where the state has done little to help residents in their battle against devastating fires. Far more helpful have been volunteers and grassroots efforts to beat back the flames and provide support.

More issues

2021
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