Grandmother Water Walker Josephine Mandamin and local Elders Shirley Williams and Doug Williams lead the 6th Annual Water Awareness Walk in the Kawarthas on Mother’s Day.   – Photo courtesy of George Campana.

Grandmother Water Walker Josephine Mandamin and local Elders Shirley Williams and Doug Williams lead the 6th Annual Water Awareness Walk in the Kawarthas on Mother’s Day. – Photo courtesy of George Campana.

By Julie Kapyrka

PETERBOROUGH – Water walkers gathered on Mother’s Day to honour Ziibii Odenabe in the 6th Annual Water Awareness Walk in the Kawarthas. Beginning with a sunrise ceremony at Trent University the walkers made their way north to Lakefield along the West bank of the Otonabee River and back down the East bank completing a 25km circuit. Stopping only to bless the water at four designated areas, the procession arrived back at the university to enjoy a celebratory feast.

Inspired by the work of Josephine Mandamin, Grandmother Water Walker, who has spearheaded numerous walks since 2003 and renowned for her epic “Mother Earth Water Walks” around all the Great Lakes, Elder Shirley Williams, Liz Osawamick, and Georgie Horton-Baptiste have led the annual Kawartha Water Walk for the past 6 years around Rice Lake, Stony Lake, Chemong Lake, Buckhorn Lake, Lake Scugog, and most recently the Otonabee River.

Remembering the flash flood in Peterborough and how Hiawatha and Alderville First Nations were affected by the sewage flowing downstream into Rice Lake, as well as the dozens of other First Nation communities who are constantly under boil water advisories, and never having had the opportunity to join up with Josephine, Shirley and her niece Liz decided it was time to “do something here too.”

“It was said by native people maybe it is time to bring out and share our thoughts and teachings on water – that Mother Earth is telling us something and that we should do something about it. Maybe we can help that way? So the start of the water walks began in the Kawarthas.”

Local Elder and Water Walker spokesperson Shirley Williams recalls that part of her inspiration for the Water Walks also came from her father: “When I was a child fishing alongside him I used to entertain myself by naming all of the things I saw at the bottom of the lake. He told me the water was becoming cloudy and not as clear as it used to be. He said someday you may be buying water. Many years later I was visiting a city and I did not like the taste of the water there so I went to the store to buy a drink and I saw bottles of water for sale. I bought one and heard my father’s voice in my head…with these things he had said so many years ago.”

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.

“We need to be better stewards of water. We need to bless the water. Without water we will not be able to live. Water is becoming polluted and we must prevent that from happening. We need clean water for our future generations,” advises Shirley, “We need to change the way we waste water. There are many things we can start doing. For example, be aware of what we throw in the water, and use less chemicals, less plastics; be mindful of the soap we use to do laundry and not use motorboats simply for recreation; and stand up against fracking and nuclear dumping.”

Water Walker and local Peterborough resident Jennifer Davis spoke from her heart: “It’s my privilege to be a part of such a special and important event. It feels good to be able to contribute my prayers for the water. As this event approached it made me more aware of my water usage and my relationship to water.”

We all have a relationship to water – we are water. We all have a responsibility to care for the water and in doing so we care for ourselves and for all of Creation. We must protect our waterways from pollution to ensure that there will be clean water for all life of future generations. The Elders advise that if you want things to change you must begin with yourself. So what will you do for the water?

Upcoming Water Walks:

Waawaasae’gaaming miinwa Couchiching (Lake Simcoe) – starting September 2nd to 12th, 2015, at Sibbald’s Point Provincial Park and finishing up at the Georgina Island Powwow.

“The purpose of the walk is so that the women of Georgina Island, and the people of the surrounding areas can pray for the water and do the spiritual work necessary to develop a good relationship with it. It is also so that people’s awareness is raised that we do with the water we do to ourselves. Our band office recently sent out a notice that we are under a boil water advisory.”

For more information:

The Migration Walk – The walk will begin from the land of the Wabanaki, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 at Matane Quebec and end at Madeline Island in Wisconsin around August 20th, 2015.

“This walk is to raise awareness of oil spills on the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River and train derailments that have caused disasters to our waters, fish, animals and vegetation. We also do not want pipelines across our county, namely reservations. Secondly, the walk is to seek our history/ies of the past migration of long ago before it gets lost in the minds of our young people. The stories are so beautiful and full of prophesy that we must pay attention to.”

For more information go to: or

Nibi Water Gathering – June 4th and 5th, Turtle Lodge, Sagkeeng First Nation, Manitoba.

“As the source of all life, the sacred element of Water will be a focus and will teach us how to work with Nature – a gift that our very survival depends upon. We will also call upon the spirit of the Thunderbirds, the real guardians of Water. Everyone is welcome to join the ceremony and make their offerings to the spirit of the Water. Receive teaching as the Grandmothers speak for this sacred giver of life.”

For more information visit the ‘Nibi page’ at

Native American Health Center’s 4th Annual Water Walk – Tuesday May 19th, 2015 at 10:30 am, Ocean Beach, Stairwell 20, San Francisco.

“The Water Walk reminds us of the sacredness of the water and creates an awareness of our responsibility to care for the water.”

For more information please contact Michelle Maas (415) 503-1046 x2712 or Aurora Mamea (415) 621-4371 x593.

Other Walks:

The 8th Fire Walk – Tibenindizowin – from June 8th to June 26th, 2015. Starting in La Verendrye Park and travelling to Victoria Island in Ottawa.

“We are presently seeking walkers to carry a birch bark canoe from the heartland of the Anishnaabe Territory to Victoria Island in Ottawa. The canoe with the word “Tibenindizowin“ will be written on it which means our Freedom, our Independence… The canoe represents all the traditions carried by the traditional people of Turtle Island and signifies the renewal of the “Two Row Wampum” treaty and the “1764 Treaty of the Niagara Covenant Chain”. The Imagine Peace Flame” will be initiated with the 8th Fire Walk to Freedom, in La Verendrye Park, and carried to Ottawa (200 km) to declare independence on June 26. It is our hope that “The Imagine Peace Flame” will be going from Ottawa to the United Nations in New York City and then on to Jerusalem this Fall for the Peace Light of Bethlehem celebrations.”
For more information, please refer to event page: