Our MissionOn September 24, 2017, the Great Lakes Water Walk invites people from all backgrounds to join Indigenous Grandmothers, Knowledge Holders and Elders in a day of “walking for the water.”
The Great Lakes have shaped and influenced our history, economy, natural environment, and many generations of surrounding communities. Yet these magnificent bodies of water are far from thriving, suffering from years of neglect, abuse and degradation.
By sharing the Indigenous practice of honouring and giving thanks to those same Lakes, The Great Lake Water Walk is an invitation to pause and reflect upon what we can do individually and collectively to ensure the health and well-being of our waters for generations to come.
The Power of Sacred Water Walking
For thousands of years, Indigenous people of Canada have held the water as a sacred gift to be cherished and revered. They teach that water (Nibi) has spirit. Traditionally, women are the ‘keepers of the water’ and hold the primary responsibility to protect it.
A humble, yet extraordinary Anishinaabe Elder from Manitoulin Island, Josephine Mandamin, has dedicated many years of her life to this responsibility. Her first Water Walk began in 2003, with a trek around Lake Superior with the message that ‘the water is sick and people need to really fight for that water, to speak for that water, to love that water.” Each subsequent spring afterward, she began anew with a different lake, until all five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River were walked and honored.
These walks are now known as the Mother Earth Water Walks or NibiWalks and still take place each year in various communities across Turtle Island (Noth America). Following her example, a group from Peterborough, Nibi Emosaawdamajig (Those Who Walk for the Water), led by Elder Shirley Williams and her niece, Liz Osawamick, have organized the annual Water Awareness Walks in the Kawarthas for the past 7 years. People from all backgrounds who join these walks recognize this act as far more than a walk celebrating local waterways. It is a potent ceremonial activity with the power to change one’s relationship to water, and thereby to nature itself.
The Great Lakes Water Walk, with collaboration and guidance from Nibi Emosaawdamajig, seeks to honor these examples and share traditional respect and love of water with participants of all backgrounds from across the Greater Toronto region.
What To Expect
The Great Lakes Water Walk is a free, public event taking place on Sunday, September 24, 2017 along the Toronto waterfront with a concluding ceremony at Marilyn Bell Park.
In the morning at 7 am, Elders and participants will meet near the Bluffs and at the mouth of the Credit River for traditional water blessings and begin walking the eastern and western routes towards Toronto. Throughout the day, these groups will carry water in copper pails from the four main river deltas (adding the Humber and the Don) as they walk towards each other across the waterfront. Participants are free to join or leave the main walking groups at any point, with times and distances that best suit them.
The walk will conclude around 3 pm at Marilyn Bell Park, where respected Anishinaabe Elders Shirley Williams and Josephine Mandamin will lead an audience of thousands in a moving blessing for the Great Lakes. They will be joined by the Chiefs of the two traditional territories of the Water Walk route (The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation), as well as leaders of cultural and faith groups, government agencies, businesses, along with youth and community organizations. The ceremony and presentations will reflect the shared awe and wonder that the Great Lakes inspire.