Monday, September 22, 2014
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First Nations elder promotes the need to protect water during a journey walking the shorelines of the mighty lakes


By Jennifer O'Brien, The London Free Press

She is known as grandmother water walker. To raise awareness about pollution, laws and issues affecting water, First Nations elder Josephine Mandamin walked the shorelines of the five Great Lakes. That’s more than 17,000 km, nearly half the Earth’s circumference. This week, Mandamin left her home in Thunder Bay to speak at Museum London’s Water Rights festival. Mandamin spoke about her experiences:

Q: Why did you set out to walk around the Great Lakes?

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?

The fracking, the pollution . . . the mining where waters are coming in. Corporations are selling off the water, prostituting our mother the Earth.

Q: Where is the worst evidence of pollution and what did it look like?

In . . . 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?

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.

Q: How long did it take to walk around Lake Superior?

32 days.

Q: What was your routine?

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?

Our walkers were always having blisters, but our feet got used to callouses after a while.

Q: Which Great Lake do you like best?

I think Lake Superior was the one we really respected . . . in terms of its majestic length and coolness of the water. It was very nice.

Q: What was your worst experience?

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.

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