2023 cohort
Water and drought

Different faiths, one calling: To the water

Californians with spiritual and cultural connections to water find themselves called to action, a valuable mindset amid the drought. Matthew […]

Maggie De La Peza

October 17, 2023

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Californians with spiritual and cultural connections to water find themselves called to action, a valuable mindset amid the drought.

Matthew Teutimez is one such advocate, fighting the pollution of the Los Angeles River. A tribe biologist for the Gabrielino Band of Mission Indians, Kizh Nation, Teutimez is standing over a pot of boiling water in the Eagle Rock region of Los Angeles. He throws in some mugwort and lets the steam envelop his face. He says that water is healing.  

“We’ve changed it so drastically that can it actually be healed, to provide for us again?” he says. “Or have we killed that limb? You know, is it a dead limb just sitting there that needs to be cut off? These are our questions, the dead limb, I’m talking about? Our river.”

Teutimez’s Kizh indigenous culture plays a huge role in his reverence for water. He says the way non-Indigenous cultures have historically used the land hasn’t worked.

“That’s what we’re trying to hopefully help people realize, is that [a] dominating mentality doesn’t work with our landscape,” he says.

It’s religion that drives stewardship of water bodies for Pastor Chris Lewis at the Foothill Church in southern Glendora. His spiritual devotion acts as a motivator for working toward a world that prioritizes water conservation. 

“That river is a source of commerce, that river is a source of food, that river is a source of drink, it’s life in many ways,” he says. “Okay, well, if I’m a Christian, if I really am taking my stewardship seriously, this is a gift. And so therefore we as a community must be stewarding this well together.”

Because of his faith, Lewis has deeply emotional reasons for combatting water issues. 

“There’s a reason I want to see beautiful rivers and streams flowing with trout and wildlife and all that, because that’s how God created this, and for people to be able to drink from that water and use that water,” Lewis says.

Lewis and Teutimez are driven by their spiritual and cultural convictions, something that legislators in the region are pushed to acknowledge.

Assemblymember Blanca Rubio who represents portions of eastern Los Angeles County began her party platform on water conservation. She says her position as a legislator has showed her the power that spiritual and cultural connection to water holds for Californians. 

“So I know that for a lot of the Indigenous communities,” Rubio says, “that’s a big deal to be able to have sustainability, not just in the water.

“I did visit some tribal lands, look through their water systems. Their attachment to the land obviously is a lot more not only because that’s where they were staying, but because they were kicked off of so many of those lands. They have a different connection than we do to natural resources.”

For people of California, water issues are very personal. Water is seen as a provider of healing or as a gift from God. 

It is these cultural and religious beliefs that give many Californians a special passion for caring for the environment and can be a powerful force against water mismanagement.

About the author

Maggie De La Peza is a 2023 JCal reporter from Los Angeles County.

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JCal is a free program that immerses California high school students into the state’s news ecosystem. It is a collaboration between the Asian American Journalists Association and CalMatters.