Josephine Mandamin (Wikwemikong First Nation), known as a tireless advocate and Water Walker, dedicated her life to the protection and preservation of the Great Lakes and surrounding waters while raising awareness that water is not only sacred but also our lifeline.
Grandmother Josephine was recognized for her determination to protecting the Nibi (water), and her role in the 2003 Mother Earth Water Walk, receiving the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conversation in 2016. She also played a key role in establishing the Great Lakes Protection Act during her time as Chief Commissioner of the Anishinabek Nation Women’s Water Commission.
With a copper pail of water in one hand and a staff in the other, Josephine took on a sacred walk, traversing over 10,900 miles around each of the Great Lakes. She is known as the “Water Walker.” According to the Michigan Sea Grant, the Great Lakes shoreline is equal to almost 44% of the circumference of the earth
“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,” said Mandamin.
In Anishinaabekwe culture, women are given the responsibility to take care of the water. “The water of Mother Earth, she carries life to us, and as women we carry life through our bodies. We as women are life-givers, protectors of the water, and that’s why we are very inclined to give mother earth the respect that she needs for the water,” said Mandamin. “That’s our responsibility, our role, and our duty, to pass on the knowledge and understanding of water, to all people, not just Anishinabe people, but people of all colors.”
In the wake of extreme extractive industries such fracking, oil, and coal, access to clean water is rapidly declining. “In our prophecies, in our Three Fires Midewiwin Society, we are taught that water is very precious. I was told by a grand chief that 30 years from now an ounce of water will cost as much as an ounce of gold if we continue with our negligence,” said Mandamin.
Grandmother Josephine moved on to the spirit world in February of this year but her legacy is continued by her great niece, Autumn Peltier. Josephine’s story was made into a children’s book authored and illustrated by Joanne Robertson, ‘The Water Walker’ is an homage to Ojibwe Nokomis Josephine Mandamin – and the water walk movement she continues to inspire.