What does water mean to you?
Indigenous women have a strong, unique and reciprocal relationship with water. The special and sacred connection comes through their role as child bearers; they have responsibilities to protect and nurture the water. Not only is water fundamental to individual and community health, wellbeing and sustainability, it is imperative to the ecological integrity and function of all communities on this Earth. Indigenous understandings of water see the resource as a divine and spiritual entity that holds life giving forces, it is considered the lifeblood of the land. Water is for drinking of course, but it has been traditionally and contemporarily used in ceremonies, to grow medicines and for cleansing in purification in all aspects of life. Just think about what you, as an individual, uses water for in your day to day life. Above all else, water plays a large role in respecting and honouring Mother Earth and her creatures which includes other humans; indigenous women play a large role in respecting this tradition through ceremonies and songs that express gratitude so that water can fulfill its role of provision and care.
Through the historical process of colonization and the legacy it has left behind, indigenous people have experienced disconnects with their land and women, specifically, have experienced a disconnect from the intergenerational transfer of knowledge surrounding water beliefs and rituals. Thus, from these disconnects and a sustained post-colonial reality of marginalization within indigenous communities, the water crises in Canada is unfortunately alive and well. This subject has been increasingly contested in conversations surrounding indigenous Canadian treaty rights and rights regarding the land and natural resources in their traditional territories. Throughout these debates, complexities of the future water planning, management and government have emerged. However, as much as these complexities exist, there is an important element to consider; indigenous rights and wishes. With decision making around water issues at the local, regional and national levels often being under the jurisdiction of those who do not place indigenous rights at the forefront of priorities, indigenous women across the country have taken it into their own hands to reassert their responsibilities in nationhood and sustainability when it comes to water. They are raising their voices as a call to action for all Canadians to pay attention to water issues that are prevalent and destructive to indigenous communities, as well as the inequality that indigenous women face in water governance structures. When speaking of women who have led the charges in the fight for water rights in Indigenous communities, one woman immediately stands out.
Grandmother Josephine Mandamin along with other Anishinawbe grandmothers, have taken action regarding the water issues faced by indigenous communities, by walking the entire perimeter of all the Great Lakes. The first annual Water Walk took place in April of 2003 in which women from several clans joined forces to spread awareness and start dialogue surrounding concerns of water pollution by chemicals, vehicle emissions, motor boats, sewage disposal, agricultural pollution and leaking landfill sites, to name a few. With water being both necessary and sacred, these women felt it necessary to challenge societies normalization of water damage. Since 2003, the group involved in the Water Walks has achieved strength in numbers, with many other indigenous men and women joining them in walking the great lakes. There has since been thirteen water walks around the lakes, the St. Lawrence River and many other major rivers. What is special about these water walks, is that they are conducted with traditional beliefs in regards to their indigenous culture and values. It has truly been collective action that has birthed inspiration for the next generation of women to care for the water.
This year’s Coady Chair in Social Justice, Dorene Bernard, will be leading her own sacred water walk here in Antigonish to open the experience to both community members and StFX students. This ceremony of course will be focused on water and its role as our most valuable natural resource that is in desperate need for the care, attention and commitment of all human beings on Earth. Those who wish to attend should bring a small sample of their own water from a source that means something to them to add to the communal pail. The event is on October 28th and will start with a smudging ceremony at 1pm. The water walk will commence at 1:30 and will be followed by a community picnic and closing remarks. Remember, water is life.