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last lake for the Mother Earth Water Walk

by Frances Rooney | April 22, 2007

Over the next two weeks, the Mother Earth Water Walk will complete the final lap of their walk around all five Great Lakes. Last year, they walked around Lake Ontario and started the walk around Lake Erie.

Joesphine Mandamin – an Ojibway grandmother and elder in her mid-sixties – founded the Mother Earth Water Walk in 2003.

The plan was that she and a few other grandmothers would walk around Lake Superior carrying a bucket of water. In her tradition, women, the givers of human life, are the custodians and protectors of water, the giver of all life. She carried the bucket of water to “raise awareness that people need to take care of their water sources.” This simple act “is my way of walking the talk. I paint a picture. I don’t have to say anything, people see.”

On the second day of the walk around Superior, the project grew beyond all Mandamin’s dreams. When an old man told her that when he was a boy his grandfather had said to him that “he would one day meet a woman walking around the Great Lakes, carrying a pail of water,” she knew that she had to walk not just Lake Superior but the other four Great Lakes as well.

This spring will be the final walk, the completion of that project. Josephine and the Water Walkers will have carried water around all five Great Lakes.

Joesphine Mandamin became an activist out of her need for people to deal openly and fairly with each other and the earth. She takes very seriously her position as a steward of water, a protector of life.

  • She saw the waters of northern Ontario sicken and die under the weight of industrial waste, mismanagement and interference with the wisdom of nature and the Creator.
  • She saw the drinking water of her people become stagnant under a cover of slime and disease.
  • She watched the waters become infested with insects and growths that destroyed fish, plants, animals and their habitats, and that made many people sick and killed some of them.

“The rich won't feel the effects of bad water. They can buy water. They don’t have children drinking out of puddles, drinking water with green slime on it.” Many people think that happens in Africa and Asia – far away. “It happens here.”

Many people knew long before the events that Walkerton and Kashechewan would happen. And that they would be only the beginning.

In 2000, Mandamin attended a lecture about the environment and what was happening to it. The speaker ended with the question: “What are you going to do about it?” That question planted the seed for the water walk and Josephine’s other activism.

Now, every time she speaks in public, she ends her talk with that same question:

What are you going to do about it?

The work is hard. And she has to do it. She has to fight so that the grandchildren can drink clean water, can play in a puddle and laugh, not come out screaming because a worm is eating its way into their foot, as happened with her 9-year-old granddaughter.

(“The worms go into the fish and rot the fish from the inside. We eat the fish. How much else is going on? How many organisms are there? Where do they come from – the other side of the world, or are they born here in the sludge of the lakes and rivers?”)

How does she sustain hope? “I wake up in the morning. I stand and face in the direction of the east. I speak to the Creator and ask for guidance for the day. I raise an ounce of water to the spirits and ask for Spirit to come to the water of the day. At night I do the same thing. I give thanks. That's all.”

While the Mother Earth Water Walk is her most publicized activity, Mandamin’s work extends throughout Ontario and into the global Indigenous Water Movement.

Now, with the completion of the walks around the Great Lakes, what will Mandamin do next? Will the Water Walks continue? She laughed at that question, saying, “The last time I looked there were only five Great Lakes!”

Her international work will continue. As well, on April 24, 2007, Josephine Mandamin was appointed Founding Chief Commissioner of the Women’s Water Commission. The commission will work with its founder – the Union of Ontario Indians – the Ontario government, and the wider community to initiate, publicize and promote actions to safeguard and improve the water that is life for us all.

For more information – or to support or join the walkers – take a look at their schedule.

During the walk, Josephine Mandamin’s daughter will answer e-mails. Walkers’ cell phone numbers are available on the website.

the trip so far
2003 Lake Superior
2004 Lake Michigan
2005 Lake Huron
2006 Lake Ontario
2007 Lake Erie, April 28 – May 7

additional resource for this story
  • Walkers raise awareness about water, by JOHANNA KRISTOLAITIS, North Bay Nugget | September 16, 2006

This feature was first published on’s predecessor site CoolWomen.


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