By Julie Kapyrka
WARSAW, Ont. – Water is precious. Water is sacred. Water is one of the basic elements needed for all life to exist.
Our water is increasingly being polluted by chemicals from industrial contamination, leaking landfill sites, agricultural run-off, motor boats and sewage disposal. In Anishinaabe teachings it was promised that the water would always flow down to humans as long as they remembered to sing and make offerings to it. Taking this responsibility to heart and to raise consciousness about water’s fragile existence, Anishinaabe women have been organizing and leading water awareness walks across Turtle Island.
Josephine Mandamin, from Wikwemikong, known as Grandmother Water Walker, has spearheaded numerous water walks since 2003. She has walked more than 17000km (Mother Earth Water Walks) along the shorelines of the Great Lakes and was instrumental in organizing a month-long walk across Ontario and five U.S. states known as the Four Directions Walk featured in a documentary called Water Journey.
Inspired by her work, an increasing number of water awareness initiatives are bringing attention to the need to protect waterways from pollution and to ensure that there will be clean water for future generations.
For the past five years on Mother’s Day weekend, Shirley Williams, Liz Ozawamick, and Georgie Horton-Baptiste have led the annual Kawartha Water Walk around Rice Lake, Stony Lake, Chemong Lake, Buckhorn Lake, and most recently, Lake Scugog.
Carrying a ceremonial copper vessel of water (from whichever body of water is being honoured), the participants walk, sing and pray along their route. Committed to honouring the next Seven Generations, the Kawartha Water Walk is scheduled for two more years.
“It’s time to rethink our relationship to Water,” says Georgie Horton-Baptiste. “Think of Water as a close relative, a family member. We take great care to nurture family ties because a blood line connects us. So it is with Water. She connects us all together — no matter our lineage, color or race, because our bodies are made of water. Let’s take care of Nibi (Water) the same way we want to be cared for.”
On Earth Day, April 22nd, Sharon Day, Ojibwe, and a group of Anishinabe grandmothers began the Ohio River Water Walk, the third of a series of Nibi Walks. The 35-day, 981-mile walk down the Ohio River raised awareness about the pollution that plagues this body of water.
Upcoming water walks include: the Waawaasegaming Water Walk 2014, starting at Georgina Island on June 23 and going around Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching and the mainland walk will start June 24 from Virginia Beach and go along the lakeshore to Keswick on the first day. The Lake Monona Water Walk starts on July 13th, 2014 in Madison, Wisconsin.
“You must ask yourself: ‘What is my duty to the water?’” says Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, who serves as Chief Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation Women’s Water Commission. “For our children, for our next generations, for the animals.”
For more information on the water walks, visit http://www.motherearthwaterwalk.com/
Julie Kapyrka holds a PhD in Indigenous Studies from Trent University and a B.Ed. from University of Western Ontario focusing on multicultural education. She created and teaches a course on Indigenous Environmental Research Ethics and Protocol.