By Michele Bourdieu
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) member Terri Denomie, left, joins Josephine Mandamin of Thunder Bay, Ont., during the 2011 Mother Earth Water Walk, on the way to the final destination, Bad River, Wis. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Roxanne Ornelas)
BARAGA -- The 2011 Mother Earth Water Walk reached its final destination -- Bad River, Wisconsin, in June. Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) members welcomed a group of Water Walkers with a reception and warm hospitality as the group stopped for an overnight rest near Baraga on June 8, a few days before the completion of the walk. Some KBIC members joined the water walkers for several hours before or after their arrival in Baraga.
"It was awesome," said KBIC member Cory Fountaine. "I met them somewhere out of Marquette, and I walked with them," he said.
Fountaine also carried the eagle staff, which symbolizes the unity of people.
The Mother Earth Water Walk is a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the importance of clean water and the sacred nature of water. The first walk in 2003 was inspired by the question, "What will you do for the water?"
Started by two Anishinaabe grandmothers, joined by a group of Anishinaabe women and men, the water walks began with walks around the Great Lakes: a walk around Lake Superior in 2003, Lake Michigan in 2004, Lake Huron in 2005, Lake Ontario in 2006, Lake Erie in 2007, Lake Michigan in 2008, and the St. Lawrence River in 2009.
The 2011 Water Walk united water from the four cardinal directions. Water from the vast Pacific Ocean, from the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic Ocean and from Hudson Bay was gathered in copper pails and carried by hand to the shores of Lake Superior. Women from across the continent answered the call to journey over 10,400,000 steps carrying copper pails of sacred salt water, uniting in Bad River, Wis., on June 12, 2011.
The lead walkers are elder women from four Indigenous Nations. Walkers from the West began on April 9th in Olympia, Washington. The south started on April 20th from Gulfport, Mississippi. The East departed from Machais, Maine, on May 7th and the North set out May 21st from Winnipeg in Canada.
Among the leaders were two sisters from Thunder Bay, Ontario -- Josephine Mandamin and Melvina Flamand -- who spoke to Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) members during the June 8 reception at Ojibwa Community College in Baraga.
Josephine Mandamin of Thunder Bay, Ont., speaks to walkers and visitors during the reception held by Keweenaw Bay Indian Community members on June 8 at Ojibwa Community College in Baraga, Michigan. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
"I started April 9 from Olympia, Washington, picked up and carried the Pacific water," Mandamin said. "We're waiting for salt water of the East to be mingled with the fresh water of Lake Superior. We all know how healing the salt water is."
Water doesn't stop. It has to flow like the river. It has to keep moving, Mandamin added.
"It is a baby. It is a child that we carry from its home territory," she explained.
Josephine Mandamin reflects near water during the walk to Bad River, Wis. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Roxanne Ornelas)
Mandamin said it was important to allow non-native people to walk with the group and help carry the water, since part of the purpose of the walk is to create a collective consciousness.
She noted Mother Earth is being abused by the big money-motivated corporations.
Money isn't that important to participants in the walk, Mandamin said, since they rely not on money but on the friendship of people.
Mandamin's sister, Melvina Flamand, spoke about the trials and tribulations endured by the water walkers; but her sense of humor was evident.
Melvina Flamand of Thunder Bay, sister of Josephine Mendamin, speaks during the reception for the walkers at Ojibwa Community College in Baraga. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
"I've been with my sister for the last nine years, and when she asks me to do something I don't ask questions," Flamand said. "If she asks me to go to the moon I will."
Panoka Walker of Monroe, Mich., a gardener who teaches culture classes like drum making and women's skills, said she's been walking with the group for a long time. She came up to the U.P. to meet them and finish this walk with them.
Participants in the 2011 Mother Earth Water Walk, pictured here in front of Ojibwa Community College last June, are, from left, Josephine Mandamin of Thunder Bay, Ont.; Panoka Walker of Monroe, Mich.; Cory La Fountaine of KBIC; and Josephine's sister Melvina Flamand of Thunder Bay, Ont. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
"I've known Josephine for a really long time," Walker said. "I first met her when they were doing the walk around Lake Michigan. She's a wonderful woman -- both she and her sister Mel (Melvina)."
KBIC members Charlotte Loonsfoot, left, and Jessica Koski helped host the reception for the walkers. They were among the KBIC members who joined the visitors the next day for part of the walk. See Charlotte's Facebook page for more photos of the walk. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Joshua Metansinine of Thunder Bay, Josephine Mandamin's grandson, said he started this walk on May 7, a month before.
"I'm going right to the end," Metansinine said. "This is my third water walk."
Metansinine said he had also participated in walks around Lake Michigan and along the St. Lawrence River.
Another one of the younger walkers was Sylvie Forest of Sudbury, Ont., a nursing student at Cambrian College of Laurentian University.
Joshua Metansinine of Thunder Bay, Josephine Mandamin's grandson, speaks about his experience on the walk. Seated, second from left (wearing hat), is Sylvie Forest of Sudbury, Ontario. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
"This is the tenth day," she said of her participation in the walk.
She said she had been walking 12 to 15 hours a day and was planning to go all the way to Bad River.
"It just kind of fell in my lap," she said of her decision to join the walk.
Forest said she had met Josephine Mandamin at an elders day at the university in March.
"(Her) words about the water resonated in me," Forest said.
She noted also hearing a friend sing the song "Bring me little water, Sylvie" and she had a sort of déjà vu as if she had had a dream.
"A little spark went off in me," Forest said. "As a younger person I feel it's really important for the youth to step up and care for the water and learn from our elders."
Some KBIC members joined the walkers the morning after the reception to participate in part of the walk. Pictured here, stopping for lunch, from left, are Josh Metansinine, Sylvie Forest, Georgenia Earring Gizhiayaanimaad, Sue Chiblow, Gabriel Peltier, Hilda Atkinson, and E Naawakwogiizis Halverson. (Photo courtesy Charlotte Loonsfoot. See more photos on her Facebook page.)
Pauline Knapp-Spruce -- KBIC personnel director and co-organizer, with Terri Denomie, of the reception -- welcomed the walkers and distributed water bottles (not plastic) and other gifts to them.
Spruce said she was reminded of a challenging walk across the Mackinac Bridge and the women walkers' gratitude to men from Sault Ste. Marie who helped them carry the heavy eagle staff.
Pauline-Knapp Spruce, KBIC personnel director, welcomes the walk participants during the reception for them at Ojibwa Community College in Baraga, a few days before the conclusion of the walk at Bad River, Wis. Spruce and Terri Denomie, KBIC Head Start and Early Head Start director, organized the reception. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
"A friend of mine mentioned how blue the water was," Spruce said. "I don't see that. I see grey. I see brown. I see black."
She noted it's human beings who have made the water sick.
"Each one of us has a responsibility to this water because each one of us has a relationship to this earth," Spruce said.
Terry Denomie, KBIC Head Start and Early Head Start director and co-organizer of the reception, participated in part of the walk with the visitors and stayed with them at Van Riper State Park in Champion.
"It was fun. It was really fun!" she said. "We were on the road by 4 in the morning and put the eagle staff down at 4:30 p.m."
Roxanne Ornelas of Oxford, Ohio, said the group had walked about 38 miles that day.
"You just have to make sure you have good shoes (and bandaids)," she said.
Ornelas is a professor of geography and women's studies at Miami University of Ohio and teaches in the Institute of Environmental Science and Sustainability there.
In this photo of the last few yards of the walk at Bad River, Wis., Roxanne Ornelas is the walker in the turqoise jacket and blue skirt carrying the pail of water. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Roxanne Ornelas)
"It's my life's work," Ornelas said of the experience of the walk.
Ornelas continued to the end of the walk and the closing ceremonies at Bad River, Wisconsin, and sent Keweenaw Now some photos.
Boats return to shore at Lake Superior after the convergence water ceremony. Photos were not allowed during the actual ceremony. The arrival of the boats was the official end of the 2011 Mother Earth Water Walk at Bad River, Wis. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Roxanne Ornelas)
"The Water Walk made me even more committed to continue to do the work I am doing to raise awareness about the condition of our waters on this continent, as well as around the world," Ornelas writes. "It is the most important issue for the well-being of humanity as far as I am concerned. It is up to each and every one of us to do our part to protect our fresh water resources. The moment is now. We cannot expect to wait for others to change things for us. We have the responsibility to create change now. To me, this is what the Water Walk is all about."
For more about the Water Walks visit their Web site.