Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.
Like the ancient mariner in the poem, Josephine Mandamin once lived surrounded by water and yet often had none to drink.
The Ojibwe woman grew up on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron, but her family frequently had no potable water. “We were always out of water, and the wells were dry. That was in the ’40s,” she told Indian Country Today Media Network in a recent phone interview.
Now Josephine lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, beside Lake Superior and its 10 percent of the world’s fresh surface water.
Yet she remembered those dry wells when Grand Chief Eddie Benton-Banaise-Bawdwayadun of the Three Fires Midewiwin Society prophesied that because of human negligence, “an ounce of drinking water will cost the same as an ounce of gold.”
“What are you going to do about it?” he challenged.
Josephine Mandamin decided to walk, and others joined her. Since 2003, Mother Earth Water Walks led by Anishinaabe grandmothers have covered 11,525 miles around all five Great Lakes and up the St. Lawrence Seaway.
“People think that the Great Lakes are going to forever be there,” Mandamin said. “They don’t think the Great Lakes are going to be used and abused.”
On April 10 in Olympia, Washington, she will join the launch of the most ambitious Water Walk yet. Walkers of various nations will cross the United States and Canada to converge June 12 near Bad River, Wisconsin, where the Water Walks began.
Mandamin plans to be at the start of walks from west, south, east and north. Each group will carry a copper bucket of salt water from the starting points to Lake Superior.
Mandamin, the Anishinabek Women’s Water Commissioner in Ontario, points to current issues such as nuclear contamination of the ocean near Japan, polluted waters in remote Ontario communities and the selling, or as she puts it “prostituting,” of water.
There is also the matter of Bruce Power company’s attempts to ship school-bus-size decommissioned steam generators filled with radioactive waste through the Great Lakes and up the St. Lawrence Seaway en route to Sweden for recycling. Facing numerous challenges to its plan, the company has opted to delay the shipments while officials talk objecting First Nations into it—though it is not offering to discontinue them.
This Mother Earth Water Walk, like the others, will focus on walk prayerfully to call attention to water as an entity rather than on any specific issue.
“We want to raise the collective consciousness of people about the water,” said Mandmin. People can save water by employing good practices in everyday activities like showering, brushing teeth and ordering water in restaurants. They need daily to thank the water. “You will likely feel a lot better and better united with the water. It is human, it can sense, it can feel, it can hear what you’re saying.”
This year Joanne Robertson of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek in Ontario will maintain a map online archivingthe walkers’ progress and posting photos, films and journals. The map will log dates of related events when walkers pass through towns. The public can contribute.
Robertson is the contact for donations. “We have a whole bunch of places that we’re looking to fill up,” she said, “for people to provide a feast or food, accommodations, WiFi every evening to send pictures and journaling … gift certificates for groceries, gas (for support cars), or to pharmacies for the blister medicines.”
In bringing attention to issues, Mandamin wants a few pairs of ears to listen most.
“The president of the United States, the prime minister of Canada and the U.N. secretary-general.… They’re the ones who really need to wake up,” she said. “We’re walking the talk. People see us and they do question, ‘What are you doing?’ So that gives us an opportunity.”
Her answer repeats the question that launched her first steps to protect the waters. “We’re not just doing this for ourselves, we’re doing this for you. What are you going to do about it?”
Send-offs for Mother Earth Water Walk
From the WEST
April 10: Olympia, Washingon
10 a.m.–noon on Evergreen Beach/Sunset Beach Drive at The Evergreen State College
Lands of the Squaxin Island/Skokomish
Ceremony: Delbert Miller (Skokomish), Squaxin Island Canoe Family; Grand Ronde Canoe Family, Josephine Mandamin (Ojibwe Anishinaabe kwe)
From the SOUTH
April 20: Gulfport, Mississippi
8 a.m. on an area beach
Lands of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw
Ceremony: Josephine Mandamin with invitations to Choctaw nation representatives. April 20 is one year from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill
From the EAST
May 7: Machias, Maine
Noon Meet at University of Maine parking to be shuttled to ceremony (Donald Soctomah,tribal historian, will coordinate)
Lands of the Passamaquoddy
Ceremony: Passamaquoddy Elders Joanna Dana, Blanche Socobasin and KaniMalsom and Josephine Mandamin
From the NORTH
May 21: Churchill, Manitoba
Ceremony: Josephine Mandamin and others