OWEN SOUND, Ontario ? It was obvious Corrine Tooshkenig's feet hurt. Blistered and calloused, they told the story of the journey that began for the grandmother of 14 many days before from a place more than 1,000 miles away.
'I've walked from the ocean, it's a sweating for Mother Earth. I'm feeling some of her pain,'' said Tooshkenig who is part of the Migration Journey for the Seventh Generation which stopped recently in Owen Sound at the original site of an Ojibwa village on the shores of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron.
The pain is worth it if it helps get the message across that the pollution of the Great Lakes must stop, Tooshkenig said.
'We're pilgrims from all walks of life who have come together for future generations,'' she said.
Beginning in mid-July at Burnt Church, New Brunswick, on the East Coast where the local Indian bands are in a bitter dispute about their rights to fish for lobster, the Migration Journey traces the ancient Anishinabe migration route from the gulf of the St. Lawrence to the Madeline Island in Lake Superior, a journey of more than 2,200 miles in all.
The group sometimes numbers as few as five and at times many, many more. Some like Tooshkenig walk, while other bicycle and others run, but they share the same goal, co-organizer Kevin Best said.
'We have to take action now for future generations. The earth, the water and the air, the givers of life are being poisoned. This is a wake up call not just for Natives but for all,'' Best said.
The migration journey stops where original migration members stopped along the same route more than 1,200 years ago. At each stop, in consultation with spiritual elders, fires will be lit and ceremonies held, Best said.
The stopping places, spoken about in prophecies, are an island near Quebec City, Niagara Falls, the Detroit River, Manitoulin Island, Sault Ste. Marie, Duluth and Madeline Island in Lake Superior.
Tooshkenig lives on the reserve on Walpole Island on Lake St. Clair just east of Detroit and has seen her people's drinking water destroyed by the chemicals spewed out by the great industries that dot the landscape there.
'We're forced to drink bottled water. 'We can no longer drink the water that has sustained our people for generations,'' she said.
'What I see is the governments not doing their jobs for the health and welfare of the people.''
Tooshkenig has been adopted as the clan mother of the group as they make their journey led by an eagle staff.
'The eagle, he guides us, his cry mixes with the cry of Mother Earth. We speak for those who don't have a voice, the plants, the fish and the animals,'' she said.
As the group has moved steadily west they have seen many shocking things, she said. 'We've seen drought in New York and Vermont, beaches so contaminated that they are posted as unsafe to swim. We've seen poisoned fish in Lake Erie, lying there dead on the shore.'
The walk is being made in the hope of ensuring a healthy environment for the next seven generations, Best said. 'We have to take action now for future generations.''
Supported by a variety of tribes from both sides of the Canadian-U.S. border, the travelers have been able to make their journey on very limited funds, Best said. 'We're still short but we are getting by.'
Support has come in the form of food and drinks along the way, camping sites and in some cases tribe members have invited the group into their homes, Best said. 'We've been astounded by the generosity and support we've received.'
The Anishinabe people received prophecies about the coming of Europeans to North America long before even the Vikings made their first landings. Warned of the cultural and environmental devastation to come, they were told to go west until they found food growing on the water, Best said.
The food growing on the water turned out to be the wild rice growing on Madeline Island on Lake Superior and that's where the journey ended, as will this one.
The prophecies also foretold a time when the water would be so poisoned the fish would not be safe to eat, Best said.
'It was all accurately foretold.'