What do you do when you can’t get together with your 250 closest friends and celebrate everything that’s wonderful about the Great Lakes? You pull them all together for a virtual gala and invite a few hundred more!
The Embassy of Canada, with its long-time partner the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, did just that on the afternoon of March 2, 2021. Recognizing that the normal celebration of Great Lakes-St. Lawrence conservation and collaboration just would not happen as normal, partners and supporters joined a line-up of speakers and regional entertainment.
The flute music of Danny Beaton, an Elder with the Mohawk Nation, welcomed participants, who further enjoyed “The Water Song” from the Akwesasne Women Singers, celebrating the “precious” water.
Ambassador Kirsten Hillman welcomed guests, highlighting the many areas of collaboration across the border as part of and in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, from sharing hand sanitizer and medical research to further addressing the Asian carp invasion through innovative means. Laura Rubin, the Director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, joined the group from the cold shores of Lake Michigan, reminding participants that the waters run through them and thus bring them together.
Canada’s Consuls General from Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, and New York got in on the fun as well, with just a bit of regional competition. Erma Leaphart with the Sierra Club shared her passion and source for her long-time engagement in restoration: fishing with her grandmother, bolstered by a history of community engagement to conserve and improve the lakes and people’s lives. Vance Badawey, Member of Parliament and co-chair of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Task Force, highlighted the strong commitments to move forward working across the border, and the aisles, to jointly conserve and promote the region, giving credit to the U.S. Congressional Great Lakes Task Forces which provided guidance. Mayors Mike Vandersteen of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, highlighted the key role the waters play in the economies and lives of their constituents, as well as the outsized impact that research and development on water issues in the region can have on the world. And following the event, who could forget what “KD” means or the similarities, and differences, between the Canadian and U.S. governments?
Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson, and the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, stole the show with strong commitments to the Great Lakes region and to combating climate change, the effects of which are already visible in the storms and impacts on the coasts. Whether it be the Nature Agenda in Canada, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the U.S., or the many programs and partners supported by the two governments, the commitments from the nations’ leaders were on full display, promoting the cross-border collaboration, resilience, and continued assurance to conserving and restoring the region. The joint statements by the two governments, released just the week prior to the Gala, cemented these commitments into the future.
How to close such a strong and moving event? With an artistic and impactful message from the next generation of Great Lakes-St. Lawrence advocates, TRUE Skool’s Liquid Gold.
As the Ambassador said, we look forward to seeing you next year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement!
Watch the full gala here