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Late Water Walker Josephine Mandamin fondly remembered

May 17, 2019 06:39AM ● By Editor

Water Walker Josephine Mandamin prays for the protection of the water for future generations during one of her water walks to raise awareness of the state of the water in the Great Lakes and other waterways. Photo supplied.

By Rick Garrick of 

Memories of the late Water Walker Josephine Mandamin and her water walks were recently shared by four water walkers and the author of the children’s book, The Water Walker, Joanne Robertson.

“It was probably the most transformative experience I’ve had in a long time,” says Mary Anne Caibaiosai, a Wiikwemkoong citizen who lives in Kitchener. “She was one of those people that showed unconditional love and purpose in what she was doing in that vision that she had. And she was so kind and caring and always checking up on the walkers to make sure we were all there and that we were all okay. She was in many ways like a mother to a lot of us.”

Caibaiosai participated in Mandamin’s last water walk, the 2017 Water Walk from Duluth, Minnesota, to Matane, Quebec. She joined the water walk in Leamington, which was about halfway along the route.

“It was important and is important still to get involved in water walks because what she did and what now others who follow in her footsteps are doing is trying to raise awareness of the water and the fact that it is not in good shape,” Caibaiosai says. “So this walk is a ceremony — that was the importance of it, of helping her to carry out that dream she had and the importance that she felt towards the water.”

Norma Peltier, a Wiikwemkoong citizen who participated in the 2015 Sacred Walk from Matane, Quebec, to Madeline Island, Wisconsin, and the 2017 Water Walk, says Mandamin emphasized the power of prayer during the water walks.

“Sometimes our body gets heavy when we have sad thoughts, and sometimes when we are happy, our bodies are so light,” Peltier says. “So that is what she taught us — if we could change that thought and put those positive thoughts in that tobacco and speak to that water, then that water will change for the positive, it will come back alive.”

Peltier says it took 97 days to complete the 2017 Water Walk.

“In our prayers, that’s all we had to do was pray for that water all those 97 days,” Peltier says. “It was hard in some places — there were places where I did cry. You go to some of those places and you feel that water, it’s crying because it is so discoloured, it is so polluted.”

Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek Councillor Maryann Mickelson, who participated in the Lake Nipigon Water Walk in 2014, says Mandamin was a “real inspiration.”

“A lot of us don’t realize how important water is to ourselves and for humans and animals to be able to survive,” Mickelson says. “It was kind of an eye-opener for myself. A lot of people used to run their water for a long time and not think about it, and now when I’m at home and I’m running the water for the dishes I always think of Josephine and I turn my water off. I fill it up now instead of letting it run when I’m rinsing my dishes.”

Mickelson says it was like walking with your grandmother during the Lake Nipigon Water Walk.

“[She was] a kind person, very soft spoken, liked to laugh and talk about her experiences on her journeys and her walks,” Mickelson says. “You felt welcomed, invited, you felt safe when you were with her and comfortable.”

Mickelson says the Lake Nipigon Water Walk was not completed but will be in the future.

“But it would have been nice to have Josephine a part of that,” Mickelson says.

Cheryl Suggashie, a Pikangikum citizen who participated in the eastern direction walk of the 2011 Mother Earth Water Walk from all four directions of Turtle Island, says it was important for her to join the walk because of the inadequate water services in Pikangikum.

“I joined them in Montreal and then we walked to Bad River, Wisconsin,” Suggashie says, noting the water walkers got up every morning at 3 a.m. “It took us about three weeks. There were people from all over, like Churchill, Manitoba and even Washington.”

Suggashie says Mandamin taught them “a lot while we were walking.”

“Every day was different,” Suggashie says. “It was tiring some days and other days we did ceremonies, like a pipe ceremony or a morning ceremony. Other days we had feasts with community members.”

Joanne Robertson, author of The Water Walker, says she got involved in the 2011 Mother Earth Water Walk after Mandamin asked her to create a map of the water coming in from all four directions to Lake Superior.

“So I coordinated that walk for her,” Robertson says. “I was looking out for their well-being and the water’s well-being.”

Robertson says the book came from a promise she made during the water walk to archive the journey so the water walkers’ grandchildren would remember the work they did for the water.

“I tried a number of ways to archive the work they were doing and nothing stuck,” Robertson says. “When I wrote the book, everything fell into place. So that was the one that stuck.”

Robertson says Mandamin enjoyed visiting children in schools to share the book.

“And they absolutely loved her,” Robertson says. “They were always concerned about if her knees were okay and how she was doing. Kids loved her and she loved them.”

Robertson adds that a Junior Water Walker program has since been developed for school classes to choose a body of water in their area to learn about, adopt and help protect.

“In May, kids around the world will be walking for water, and she was so thrilled about that,” Robertson says.

To read the original article and read related reporting, follow this link to the website.

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