Josephine Mandamin has walked more than 17,000 kilometres to raise consciousness of Great Lakes
She is known as grandmother water walker. In effort to raise awareness about pollution, laws and any issues that impact water, First Nations elder Josephine Mandamin has walked the shorelines of all five Great Lakes. That’s more than 17,000 kilometres of coastline and equal to nearly half the earth’s circumference. This week Mandamin left her home in Thunder Bay for southwest Ontario to speak at the 5 p.m. opening of Museum London’s Water Rights festival.
Before the opening, we spoke with her about her experiences. Here’s a portion of the conversation:
Q: Why did you set out to walk around the Great Lakes?
A:I think we need to raise consciousness. We need to be aware of the polluted waters we see. We are all of water. We need to protect this water as much as we can.
Q: Protect it from what?
A: The fracking, the pollution . . . the mining where waters are coming in. Corporations are selling off the water, prostituting our mother the earth. It’s the big corporations that need to be understanding.
Q:Where is the worst evidence of pollution and what did it look like?
A:In terms of looking at Northeastern Ontario there are a lot of small lakes in that area around the highways we walked on with green slime on the waters. The water is very still, it doesn’t move.
Q:What about the Great Lakes?
A: Lake Ontario . . . You could almost see the shimmering when you got to the New York side of it. We didn’t even touch the water, we usually take our shoes off at least and put our feet in. We swam in lake Michigan almost every day. But we didn’t touch Lake Ontario.
Lake Erie was brown. When we were on the U.S. side, it looked very dirty and very brown.
Q:How long did it take to walk around Lake Superior?
A: 32 days.
Q:What was your routine?
A: We’d get up at 2:30 or 3 a.m., and walk until the sun goes down. We’d have an orange or fruit along the way or juice. You have to walk with a pail as if you are walking with a water stream. It’s very important to keep the water moving because you’ve made that promise to keep it moving while you are walking. People would put us up in homes or if we had funds we’d stay in motels.
Q: What was the biggest challenge?
A: Our walkers were always having blisters but our feet got used to callouses after a while.
Q: Which Great Lake do you like best?
A:I think Lake Superior was the one we really respected a lot in terms of it’s majestic length and coolness of the water. It was very nice. You couldn’t swim in it because it was so cold. Lake Huron is my home water and I really have a lot of personal attachment to the water there. I’m from Manitoulin Island and Georgian Bay was pristine waters when I was there.
Q: What was your worst experience?
A: Lake Erie was a place where we were called down. On the American side, people were driving by saying ‘Crazy indians’ when we walked through Detroit, it was really scary. When we got back (over the Ambassador Bridge) to Windsor my son said ‘it’s good to be back home.’
Q: You’ve mentioned the pollution. Did anything give you reason for hope?
A:Lake Michigan is a beautiful lake and it flows into Lake Superior and there’s hope that we can still keep our waters pristine if we keep the motor boats and the gas out and get back to canoes. Where there are motorized boats, you can see the oil and gas in the water.
Q: What else?
A: One of the nicest things about people though was when they knew we were coming, people would come and help us out, they’d have supper for us, or give us money for hotel rooms. When we crossed (into Windsor) there was a committee of people and stopped and said the church was open for us.
If you go:
What: Water Rights Festival at Museum London, includes several documentaries about water
When: Friday, Saturday, Sunday (film times listed at http://waterrightsfilmfestival.wordpress.com/)