Written by Marlene Ness
“What we do to the water, we do to ourselves…” These words ripple out, like the voices of the Anishinaabe water-walkers who touched many souls on their encompassing quest around Lake Winnipeg.
After 28 days –and 1,032 kilometers-- Katherine Morrisseau-Sinclair and the Lake Winnipeg Water Walkers concluded their intense journey of walking, singing and prayer on August 8 in the community of Manigatagon.
A crowd of 80-100 people gathered for the final six kilometre leg of the walk, which began at the bridge on the south edge of Manigotagan, and ended two hours later on the shores of Lake Winnipeg at Reg and M.J.Simard’s residence. Among the attendees of the 2014 Water Walk’s closing ceremony were Anishinaabe elders and walkers from the many communities the Lake Winnipeg Water Walk passed through. Of special note was the presence of Saulteaux actor Adam Beach (of Skinwalkers, Dance Me Outside, and Arctic Air fame), who made a special trip to Manigotagan to participate in the closing ceremony, honoring the water walkers and his own Anishinaabe roots.
“It was a beautiful ending to our walk, to see such a large and caring group of people gathering to walk with us on those final six kilometers,” said Dene Sinclair, daughter of the walk’s leader Morrisseau-Sinclair. Dene joined her mother for a full 10 days of walking. “We were amazed at the true generosity of people along our entire journey. Every day, we walked approximately 40-50 kilometers. And in each community we passed through, we connected with so many people-- sharing stories of the lake and hope for the water.”
For the final events of the Lake Winnipeg Water Walk, Katherine Morrisseau-Sinclair was dressed in an exquisitely crafted, traditional garment: a water dress created for her by her dear friend, Anishinaabe artist Siobhan Marks. The artist describes her work as “an Ojibwe strap dress - dark blue velveteen with Ojibwe floral beadwork, Ojibwe pattern ribbon work, copper brooches, and the Ojibwe-Cree constellation beaded on the cape.”
The lakeside closing ceremony included songs, tobacco offerings, prayers of thanks, and gift-giving.
A large snapping turtle was released into Lake Winnipeg during the ceremony, symbolizing a return of life and spirit to the lake. “One of our walkers just happened to find this turtle in the middle of the road on the very last day of our walk!” marveled Sinclair. “It was very fitting, because the Turtle is one of our clan animals—and coincidentally the only animal we had not yet spotted on our entire journey. So to be able to return the Turtle to the waters was very rewarding.”
The ceremonial copper water vessel, which was used to carry water over the entire 1,032 kilometers around the lake, was presented by Morrisseau-Sinclair to a group of ladies from Norway House who were devoted supporters of the water walk. “Many days these women drove 50 or 60 kilometers, just to come out and relieve us, and helped carry the water.”
After the closing ceremony, a large feast and celebration followed, hosted at the Manigotagan community hall. Sinclair commented that Manitogan deserves huge thanks for its hospitality in closing the successful walk this past weekend.
“Although we don’t have an exact total of our fundraising at this point yet, we know that we definitely exceeded our goal of $20,000”, concluded Sinclair. “Even when we began our walk on July 12, we already had $18,000 in donations. Throughout our journey, people were extremely giving. One man from Winnipeg –who wishes to remain anonymous—gave us $1,000. Words can’t express how grateful we felt.”
The healing of Lake Winnipeg is a deep and emotional issue for so many people, from diverse cultural backgrounds and unique spiritual vantage points. In the summer of 2013, a Hawaiian elder (Ai Ai) who visited one of our Lake Winnipeg communities, left behind a Turtle Song as a special gift for the healing of Lake Winnipeg:
”E Kane auloli ka honua; Honu ne’e pu ka ‘aina; Ho’ola I ka wai-ka wai ola; Ma’ema’e ka wai, ola ka honu a; E ola kakou e…”
Translated to English, this songs means:
Kane of the changing earth
The Turtle that moves
with the land
Heal the waters—
the living waters
Cleansed are the waters,
and the Turtle lives
Life for all.
Thank you—Miigwetch-- to the Lake Winnipeg Water Walkers, and in particular to Katherine Morrisseau-Sinclair for pursuing her clarity of vision for over 1,000 kilometers, on a bold path to a healthier Lake Winnipeg.