She has walked more than 10,000 miles, along the banks of numerous rivers and lakes, and now Ojibwe grandmother Josephine Mandamin, Wikwemikong First Nation, has been recognized for her years of effort by a Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award.
The founder of the Mother Earth Water Walk was one of seven people recognized for Excellence in Conservation on Friday February 26 by the Ontario Heritage Trust, which works to identify, protect, renew and promote the diversities of nature and culture that keep the province vibrant. The awards are given annually for “exceptional contributions to conserving Ontario’s cultural and natural heritage,” according to the Ontario Heritage Trust site.
Mandamin was recognized for her role in founding the Mother Earth Water Walk in 2003 as well as for holding symposiums and conferences in First Nations communities. She has walked the perimeter of all the Great Lakes, and numerous other waterways—for a total of more than 10,500 miles over the past five years.
“Ms. Mandamin is one of the two founding Grandmothers who started Water Walks,” the heritage site said. “She has performed these walks throughout Canada, Central America and the United States, and is one of three official Commissioners of the Anishinabek Women's Water Commission who work to improve dialogue, communication and relations between the Anishinabek Nation (comprised of 39 First Nation communities), the government of Canada, and interested businesses, organizations and individuals.”
Mandamin, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, has gotten more than 100 First Nation communities to sign the First Nations Great Lakes Water Accord, the heritage site noted, as well as mentored First Nations citizens and youth. Her goal, as she told Indian Country Today Media Network back in 2011, is to make people aware of their dependence on water, as well as their connection to it.
“We want to raise the collective consciousness of people about the water,” Mandamin said, suggesting that people make it a daily practice to thank the water. “You will likely feel a lot better and better united with the water. It is human, it can sense, it can feel, it can hear what you’re saying.”
She was also quoted in a statement from the Union of Ontario Indians.
“I will go to any lengths to and direction to carry the water to the people,” Mandamin has said. “As women, we are carriers of the water. We carry life for the people. So when we carry that water, we are telling people that we will go any lengths for the water. We’ll probably even give our lives for the water if we have to. We may at some point have to die for the water, and we don’t want that.”
The Union of Ontario Indians also lauded Mandamin’s accomplishments, and expressed gratitude for her award.
“Elder Josephine Mandamin has walked the shorelines of five Great Lakes as well as in all four directions of Turtle Island,” said Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Anishinabek Nation, the Union of Ontario Indians, in a statement. “She takes care of the lifeblood of Mother Earth—water. Josephine has been bringing awareness about pollution, laws, fracking and the selling of the water. I congratulate her on such a great honor.”
Other recipients of the 2015 Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Awards include seven recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award “for volunteer contributions to the conservation of community heritage over a period of 25 years or more”; 72 Youth Achievement Awards “for exceptional voluntary contributions to heritage conservation by youth age 24 and under”; an Excellence in Conservation Award for seven projects, including Mandamin’s, and a Community Leadership Award “for exemplary leadership, commitment, creativity, positive impact on community and good conservation practices,” the Heritage Trust said.
Photo: Courtesy Union of Ontario Indians
Josephine Mandamin, founder of the Mother Earth Water Walk and recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation.