Posts tagged ‘Water’

Water Walk sets out from Machiasport for Wisconsin

Joan Dana (left) of Indian Township, and Josephine Mandamin (center) of Ontario, carry a copper bucket filled with water from the Machias Bay as they prepare for a ceremony at Bad Little Falls in Machias on Saturday, May 7, 2011. Dana, of the Passamaquoddy tribe, and Mandamin, of the Ojibwe tribe, are among the dozens of participants in the 2011 Mother Earth Water Walk, which brings together Native Americans from across the continent to raise awareness concerning the importance of clean water. At far right is Donald Soctomah, also of Indian Township. Kate Collins Photo

By Sharon Kiley
Bangor Daily News

MACHIASPORT, Maine — Josephine Mandamin, an Ojibway Indian from Thunder Bay, Ontario, stooped under the weight of the water in the copper bucket she carried from the sea, across the rocks and a field, to the roadway. Beside her was her sister Melvina Mandamin and her grandson Josh Metansinine, who carried a staff adorned with an eagle’s head.

Walking behind them, a band of flowing skirts, tribal headdresses and leather fringe, were Indians from Passamaquoddy, Cherokee, Blackfeet, Penobscot, Micmac and other Maine and Canadian tribes. Among them was Joan Dana of Indian Township, who at age 74 led five generations of her family. They walked from Picture Rock, an ancient petroglyph site where they gathered the water from the Atlantic Ocean, on through Machiasport, every so often switching water carriers and staff bearers.

This was the Eastern Direction of the Mother Earth Water Walk that will culminate at Lake Superior in Wisconsin in June. The walk symbolizes the need to care for water to ensure clean water for future generations. Women, many of them tribal elders from the four directions of North America, are carrying water in identical copper buckets from the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and Hudson Bay. In mid-June, the waters will be reunited as the walkers reach Lake Superior.

As the bucket was dipped into the Atlantic Ocean around 4 a.m. Saturday, Donald Soctomah of Indian Township said, an eagle flew overhead and a seal watched from the sea.

“This is why we walk,” he said. “It is for them — the creatures — too.”

Soctomah said, “This is the very essence of who we are as native people and human beings. Without clean water, we have nothing.”

From the petroglyphs, the walkers carried the water to Machias where 100 people had gathered for a ceremony at Bad Little Falls to officially kick off the Eastern Direction of the walk. As they walked, they sang.

“Every step is a prayer,” Soctomah explained.

Three days earlier, Soctomah and other Passamaquoddy Indians had built a sweat lodge on the sacred petroglyph site to allow natives to purify themselves before the walk.

After lunch and rest, provided by the Beehive Collective of artists at the historic Grange in Machias, they headed through Whitneyville, Jonesboro, Harrington and on into Milbridge, where the group took shelter Saturday night. On Sunday they continued along Route 1 toward Ellsworth, making for Bangor. From there they will walk along Route 2 to Skowhegan then make their way through western Maine to cross the border into Canada at Coburn Gore by the middle of next week. There can be anywhere from two to about 15 walkers in the group at any given time.

Every time the walkers passed water on the side of the road, a spiritual offering of tobacco was made, and as they walked, they sang songs of praise and hope. Native women are the carriers and protectors of water so the pail cannot be carried by a man. An Ojibway man asked Faye Bauman of Machias, a Blackfeet woman, how it felt to carry the pail.

“Powerful,” she answered.

East Coast organizer Madeline Hjunter of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, said she was holding back and letting the Passamaquoddy tribal members take the lead on the first leg of their journey. Soctomah said he would join the walkers off and on along the way.

Maureen Robichaud and Wendy Langille, non-natives, drove from Hampton, New Brunswick, to Machias to experience the beginning of the walk.

“It is really true that we don’t appreciate water as we should,” Robichaud said.

The women held a drumming circle at their Canadian home to help raise money for the walkers.

“This is so important, we just wanted to be here to send them off,” she said.

“Whatever we do to the water will impact the children of future generations,” Hjunter said. “People need to start looking at how we live and the importance of clean water.”

The Mother Earth Water Walk began in 2003, according to the project’s website, as “a prayer for the water, for Mother Earth, for the animals, the birds, the insects, the trees and for us, all two leggeds. Together the walks were one prayer for life.” This is the first year that water will be carried from the four corners of North America, and non-natives are encouraged to join the walkers.

The Western and Southern legs of the walk have already begun, although Soctomah said the Southern contingent was forced to stop for a while because of tornadoes in their path.

Hjunter said people along Routes 1 and 2 in Maine can assist the walkers by placing signs along the way asking trucks and other traffic to slow down and take care when near the walkers.

Kehben Grier of the Beehive Collective is still seeking rest stops for the walkers along Routes 1 and 2 in Maine. Those who want to open their doors to the walkers or provide a place to rest may contact her at



E-mail Money Transfers (Can & U.S.):

Cheques may be made out to:  Mother Earth Water Walk and mailed to:

Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig
Attn: Joanne Robertson, WW Coordinator
1550 Queen Street E
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
P6A 2G3

Direct Deposit:  Northern Credit Union
Acct#: 14492 828 0161405641


Day 24: Supporting the Mother Earth Water Walk

Josephine Mandamin in a scene from a documentary called Waterlife. John Minh Tran Photo

I’m feeling kind of helpless today as I see the various Facebook updates  from the Water Walkers.  They’ve been humbly calling for assistance as they make their way from the Pacific Ocean, ascending through the Rocky Mountains, en route to Anishinaabeg territory in the Great Lakes.

The least I can do is send them some much needed money and write them a blog post of support.

For those of you who don’t know, the Mother Earth Water Walk has begun a journey from each of the four directions, raising awareness of the state of water and the need to protect and speak up for the most precious natural resource on the planet.  Led by Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, the walk began its first and longest leg, from the Pacific Ocean, culminating in early June at Lake Superior.  The Mother Earth Water Walk began in 2003 with a 36-day walk around Lake Superior.  Since then, almost every spring, the water walkers have walked around each of the Great Lakes and down the entire length of the St. Lawrence River.

Unfortunately, the environment is not being seen as a priority issue in this election campaign.  But for Anishinaabe people, nothing can be more important.  People of all nations, backgrounds, and political stripes need to be aware of the state of the water and the environment.  We all need to make positive decisions with respect to the health of our environment and fresh water sources.  Unsustainable development and recklessness cannot continue without appropriate consideration of these factors.

Government needs to play a central role in holding industry and consumers accountable.  Officials ought to work with First Nations and factor in our tremendous traditional knowledge when making decisions that affect water.

The Liberal Party of Canada has committed to an innovative Canadian Freshwater Strategy that will do just that.  It will be the first national strategy on water in the past 20 years.  The goal of the strategy is to preserve Canada’s freshwater for the generations to come.

That’s why Josephine and these women are doing this walk.  With the support of men, Anishinaabe-kwe have committed to walking across Turtle Island (North America), carrying a copper pail full of water.  The water from each leg of the walk, the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Hudson’s Bay and Gulf of Mexico will be intermingled together with the Great Lakes water when they reach their final destination.

In our culture, the water is considered our life-blood.  It not only flows through our bodies and provides us nourishment, it is said to flow directly from the Spirit World in a beautiful river that flows forever.  As Anishinaabe people, we should do everything we can to honour this deep spiritual connection.

We may not be able to join our Grandmother Josephine and the other Midewiwin women on the walk.  But we can be a part of the broader message, send our prayers, donations and support as they climb through the difficult mountain passes in Washington state.


E-mail Money Transfers (Can & U.S.):

Cheques may be made out to:  Mother Earth Water Walk and mailed to:

Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig
Attn: Joanne Robertson, WW Coordinator
1550 Queen Street E
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
P6A 2G3

Direct Deposit:  Northern Credit Union
Acct#: 14492 828 0161405641


Day 20: Protecting Mother Earth a Priority

I’ve used my blog to talk about First Nations poverty during the election, but haven’t spoken much about environmental issues.

An important issue in this election is Canada’s place in the world.  Unfortunately, in the last five years or so, Canada has not stepped up to the plate when it comes to issues of foreign policy, advocating for human rights, and most importantly, protecting the environment.

For Anishinaabe people, there is nothing more important than protecting Shkaakamik-kwe, our Mother Earth.  From the time of Creation, Gzhemnidoo gave the responsibility to the Anishinaabeg to be stewards of the earth.  Our Anishinaabe-kwe (women) were given the responsibility to look after and speak to the water.  More and more, Anishinabe people are taking those instructions and sacred duty very seriously.

However, we all need to speak up in ensuring Canada takes their role as global environmentalists seriously.

It wasn’t long ago that Canada played a leadership role in developing the Kyoto Accord.  We were serious in putting a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and introduce a carbon tax.

However, under the Harper government, all that environmental progress has been lost in favour of big business, oil pipelines, oil sands development and corporate tax cuts.  Harper has bowed to American interests, rather than do what needs to be done.  The Conservative government wasn’t a signifcant factor in either the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009 nor the Cancun climate conference in 2010.

The Liberal Party has provided a platform that First Nations people can be proud of.  They continue to assert their position and commitment to a long-term greenhouse gas reduction target of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.  In the meantime, a Liberal government will work with domestic and international partners on practical, but meaningful medium-term goals.

More significantly for us Anishinaabe living in our Great Lakes territory, the Liberals have promised to develop the first ever Canadian Freshwater Strategy.  As in the past, I’m certain that the LPC will be working with First Nations in ensuring our traditional territories and cultural perspectives are an important consideration in this important initiative.

The freshwater strategy also includes a ban on the exporting of freshwater, something many environmentalists and First Nations have been calling for.  I know I will be working to ensure this ban includes eliminating the loophole that allows the exporting of containers 20 litres or less (i.e. bottled water).

Finally, it’s always nice to get an endorsement from leading environmentalists.

“We applaud the Liberal party’s funding allocation for restoration of the Great Lakes, clean up of Lake Winnipeg and strategies to address invasive species,” said the Council of Canadians.

Canada’s Dirty Little Secret

Tiger Woods isn’t the only one with a dirty, little secret.

Canada still has fundamental human rights challenges. This is related to the conditions and history of Canada’s First Nations people. Sadly, these challenges are not generally known outside of Canada. Even some Canadians have blinders on. Many try to refute the truth and the statistics while never stepping foot in a remote First Nation community.

Today is International Human Rights Day. 61 years ago, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlining the 20 fundamental human rights that every human being is entitled to. According to Guinness World Records, it is also the most translated document in the world.

I wish it could only be translated into Canadian.

Last week, Stephen Harper was carrying his message of human rights to China – while fully ignoring the realities of his own backyard. Canada is not squeaky clean when it comes to human rights.

Here are just a few of the main human rights issues faced by Canada’s First Nations:

Third World Conditions – Canada currently ranks 4th in the world on the United Nations human development index. However, when Indian and Northern Affairs Canada entered First Nations-data only in the index, Canada ranks 63rd. Officially, this places Canada’s First Nations firmly in the realm of third world conditions.

Quality of Life Indicators – Infant mortality, life expectancy, homelessness, inadequate housing, incidents of tuberculosis, health disease, HIV-AIDS, diabetes – First Nations in Canada are near the top of the statistics. Suicide is the leading cause of death among First Nations between the ages of 10 and 24.

Aboriginal Women – Article 3 of the Universal Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Yet, in recent years, there have been over 500 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Most are the most vulnerable people in Canada, forced into homelessness, prostitution and unsafe situations. Many women and children are forced away from their homes, due to inequalities under the Indian Act and lack of matrimonial property laws. Once again, article 17 of the Declaration states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

Residential Schools – Article 5 states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” For decades, First Nations children were forcibly removed from the homes, families and communities and forced to attend government sanctioned, church-run residential schools. Inside they were subject to systemic assimilation, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Entire generations of people endured inhuman and degrading treatment on behalf of the government and in the name of the Lord. First Nations survivors and victims were only given an apology in June 2008. Individuals and affected families were provided long-awaited compensation. Many more are still unresolved. Many thousands of Elders, the survivors, have died in anguish without any acknowledgement. Yet, the government has yet to deal with multi-generational trauma and the affected of residential school on language and culture. A truth and reconciliation commission will be travelling throughout Canada documenting the stories from Canada’s saddest chapter in it’s history.

Child Poverty – According to Campaign 2000, one in four Aboriginal children grow up in poverty. That is utterly signficant. Canada has attempted to address child poverty, and in 1989 passed a motion in the House of Commons to rid poverty by the year 2000. Not even close. Statistics are not improving.

Child Welfare – The Assembly of First Nations is currently before the Canadian Human Rights Commission after filing a complaint against the federal government over child welfare. There are over 27,000 First Nations children in care which is considered by many to be a state of crisis. Former National Chief Phil Fontaine described the conditions as a “national disgrace”. To this day, funding of First Nations child protection agencies is woefully inadequate to address the current need, much less lead to proactive, preventative measures. The situation is similar to what was referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, another Canadian historical taboo. In the 1960s, thousands of First Nations children were removed from their homes on reserves and placed into non-native care. Many of those children never reconnected with their First Nations culture and roots. Others were adopted out to non-native families without proper consent.

Education Inequity – Article 20 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to education.” But apparently this right is provided in varying degrees, at the discretion of the Crown. First Nations students going to school on-reserve are funded at least $2,000-$5000 less than non-native students attending public schools. On-reserve school facilities are inadequate and in many cases unsafe. As a result, the drop out rate for First Nations students is three times the Canadian average. About 70% of First Nations students on-reserve will never complete high school. This is all according to Government of Canada statistics.

Clean Drinking Water – Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,” However, there are still hundreds of boil water advisories in First Nation communities. That is boil water advisories for the entire communities, affecting every single home, affecting every single man, women and child. There is a fundamental lack of funding, standards and training for First Nations, much less the infrastructure needed to treat water and wastewater. Schools do not have clean potable water.

Indigenous Rights – Canada and the United States continues to refuse to be signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. This document entrenches the aspirations, values and rights of First Nations people including the right to have full enjoyment of the Rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not to mention the right to self-determination and self-government.

Perhaps, this message needs to be sent out during the Olympic Torch Run, leading up to and throughout the course of the 2010 Winter Olympics and perhaps during the Pan-Am Games. The message should be loud and clear during the upcoming G-8 meeting in Huntsville and the G-20 in Toronto.

I suggest that First Nations, as represented by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) should join the fledgling “G-77”, the group of seventy-seven on the world’s poorest countries as a means of contributing to world affairs and gaining international attention to Canada’s dirty little secret.