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Watch Your Language

Map: Upper Great Lakes

"Words count. Words matter and clever people know this," said Lana Pollack, chair of the U.S. Section of the International Joint Commission, to the crowd gathered in the Greysolon Ballroom in Duluth, Minnesota.

As a keynote speaker at the Upper Great Lakes Law and Policy Symposium in March 2016, Pollack urged attendees to think of people ... people like herself who work in government ... as public servants, not bureaucrats. Talking about the Flint, Michigan, water calamity and why it caught America's attention, she said, "It's because the vector for poisoning was water, not paint, and because those who fell down on the job were public servants. People have grown used to blaming government, rather than supporting it, seeing rules as burdensome rather than protective. A culture that has convinced itself that regulations are burdensome will quickly find itself without regulations and without protection."

Pollack was one of 17 compelling speakers at the symposium and not the only one to reference the weight of words. Michael (Mic) Isham, chairman of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, recommended calling the Great Lakes "multinational" rather than "binational" resources, thereby acknowledging that their governance requires forums and policies that incorporate Native American and First Nation perspectives.

Brad Karkkainen, the Henry J. Fletcher Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota, suggested the lakes be called natural endowments, not commodities. "It is an interesting intellectual challenge to put a value to ecosystem services," he said. "But this accounting can only go so far. Putting a dollar value on these lakes almost trivializes them."

Karkkainen commended Great Lakes states and provinces for the policies and regulations that govern these boundary waters, and called for them to step up even further to ensure the protection of the Great Lakes saying, "Be more ambitious and high-minded."

Each of the presentations was provocative in its own way and most are available through Minnesota Sea Grant's website and YouTube channel. Related articles are to appear in a forthcoming issue of the Sea Grant Law and Policy Journal.

Symposium attendees also responded with particular interest to presentations by Peter Annin, co-director of the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation, Northland College; Cameron Davis, senior advisor to the administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Wenona Singel, associate professor of law and associate director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center, Michigan State University College of Law; Jason MacLean, assistant professor and Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Lakehead University; and Michael Goffin, regional director general, Environment and Climate Change Canada.

"The Upper Great Lakes Law and Policy Symposium was exceptional," said Cathy Janasie, research counsel for the National Sea Grant Law Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law. "Unlike the other symposiums the National Sea Grant Law Center helped to support, this one involved U.S., Canadian and tribal perspectives. The diversity of perspectives and content led for great discussions."

Supporting the notion that this was indeed an exceptional symposium, 100 percent of survey respondents (n=41) said that they would be eager to attend a similar conference. And at the symposium, Isham said to a local Duluth reporter, "This is one of the best collaborations I've seen in my 25 years in environmental protection."

By examining ideas for tackling Great Lakes transboundary issues like aquatic invasive species, climate, contamination and water diversions, the Upper Great Lakes Law and Policy Symposium created a forum for a reasoned exploration of how policies and laws might better reflect science and citizen engagement as they work toward sustainable solutions across jurisdictions. The symposium was cohosted by Minnesota Sea Grant, the University of Minnesota Law School, the University of Minnesota Duluth's Pre-Law Club and the Sea Grant Law Center with financial contributions from the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota Duluth and the Sea Grant Law Center through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Law Center also sponsored two other symposiums in 2016, one exploring oil challenges in the Gulf of Mexico and the other examining issues related to New York's Long Island Sound.

Presentation videos from the Upper Great Lakes Law and Policy Symposium can be accessed here.

By Sharon Moen
December 2016

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