Wikwemikong Elder and Waterwalker Josephine Mandamin, centre, and a group of five other Elders from northwestern Ontario gathered on Dec. 17 with Lakehead University Aboriginal Initiatives vice provost Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, left, to discuss options to help youth find their way while studying at the university.

Wikwemikong Elder and Waterwalker Josephine Mandamin, centre, and a group of five other Elders from northwestern Ontario gathered on Dec. 17 with Lakehead University Aboriginal Initiatives vice provost Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, left, to discuss options to help youth find their way while studying at the university.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY – Wikwemikong Elder and Waterwalker Josephine Mandamin stressed the value of passing on traditional teachings to youth during a recent Lakehead University Elders Roundtable.

“I really believe it starts from the time they are seven, eight, nine years old, right up until they are 29 or 30,” says Mandamin, who completed 10 Mother Earth Water Walks from 2003-2012, including walks around all five Great Lakes and down the St. Lawrence River. “They really need the teachings, because we don’t give them (the traditional teachings) in the home.”

Mandamin says her generation was taught about the traditional teachings while growing up at home, noting that she spent time with her grandmother and aunts and uncles when she was young.

“We learned it, we observed it, we saw what was happening but now you can’t because you are living in the city and you can’t do that anymore,” Mandamin says. “We have to start teaching them the way we do in universities and colleges.”

Mandamin often takes her daughter or her granddaughters with her when she attends ceremonies.

“We should have had young people sitting around here listening to what we were saying (at the roundtable),” Mandamin says. “We have to bring them wherever we go.”

Mandamin shared her knowledge with youth this past May at Trent University’s Sacred Water Circle Gathering, which included Elders and spiritual leaders from the Northwest Territories, Arizona, South Dakota, Peru and Colombia. She has been involved with Trent University for the past seven-to-eight years.

“They have Elders come and speak,” Mandamin says about the Trent University gathering. “You have a choice of who you want to listen to. It’s really good — they have a whole area like this where they have classrooms and they have people come to talk to or go and listen to the Elders.”

Mandamin and five other Elders attended the Lakehead University Elders Roundtable on Dec. 17 to discuss options to help youth find their way while studying at the university, which currently hosts about 1,140 Aboriginal students, one of the highest Aboriginal enrolments among Canada’s universities.

“We need to create a bridge between the Elders and the young people,” says Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Lakehead University’s vice-provost (Aboriginal Initiatives). “It’s one of the things we need to do for the future.”

Wesley-Esquimaux says the university is planning a tour for youth in March, when they will have an opportunity to meet and talk with the Elders.

“In June we are going to try to work with our students and other students across the city to do something that will elevate their voice and their issues and their concerns,” Wesley-Esquimaux says. “And in September we want to (invite) the adults. (They) need to have their voice at the table too to ask what else can we do to help make sure these students make it through and they get the right kind of support.”