Women and the Water (Walking) Movement
For World Water Day 2018 we recognize the inspiring Indigenous women who protect water for us all.
"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." — Josephine Mandamin
Across North America, Indigenous women have organized and participated in movements advocating for clean and protected water. Here are some of their stories.
Autumn Peltier has advocated for water protection since she was eight years old. Now 13, she will be addressing the United Nations General Assembly on World Water Day. Inspired to speak about water issues by her aunt, Josephine Mandamin, Peltier spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when she met him at the Assembly of First Nations' annual winter gathering in December 2017. Peltier was nominated for the 2017 International Children's Peace Prize. She is Anishinaabe, from Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island.
Sharon Day is the Executive Director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and founder of Nibi Walk, an organization that coordinates Indigenous-led water walks in the United States to promote people's spiritual and physical relationship with water. Nibi Walk has a clear message: "We are not a protest. We are a prayer for the water." Sharon Day is Ojibwe, enrolled in the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota.
Shirley Williams and Elizabeth Osawamick
For the past 10 years, Elder Shirley Williams and her niece Elizabeth Osawamick have organized a group that hosts annual water walks held around Ontario's Kawartha region called Nibi Emosaawdamajig (Those Who Walk for the Water). In September 2017, they worked with the group Great Lakes Water Walk to organize a walk for hundreds of people along Toronto's waterfront, advocating for clean water. Shirley Williams is Midewiwin and a member of the Bird Clan from the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Elizabeth Osawamick is also Anishinaabe Midewiwin-kwe.
In 1993, Winona LaDuke co-founded Honor the Earth, an initiative that helps to organize and finance Indigenous environmental movements. The group has re-granted over two million dollars to over 200 Indigenous communities for their environmental efforts. LaDuke has been active in fighting against oil pipelines, acting as a strong voice against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota that began in 2016. Winona LaDuke is Ojibwe and she lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota.
Known as the "Water Walker" for traversing the perimeter of the Great Lakes, Anishnaabe Elder Josephine Mandamin co-founded the Mother Earth Water Walkers, a group that walks to raise awareness about water pollution. Since 2003, Mandamin has walked over 17,000 kilometers for the water walking movement, and has attended conferences to discuss issues about water quality. Josephine is from Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island and now lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Read About Josephine Mandamin
The Water Walker is a picture book that brings the story of Josephine Mandamin's water work to young readers aged 6–9.
Joanne Robertson, author of The Water Walker
Joanne Robertson is herself a Water Walker, helping to support many walks through live GPS spotting to make sure the water, and the walkers, are safe on their journeys. Joanne lives near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Follow Joanne on Facebook: @JoanneRobertsonStudio