Josephine Mandamin is known to many as the “Water Walker,” and with good reason: she has walked around every Great Lake, not to mention along the St. Lawrence River and various other bodies of water. Mandamin has made it her life’s purpose to raise awareness about water preservation.
The shoreline of Lake Superior alone is 2,938 kilometres long, and Mandamin — a grandmother and member of Anishnaabe First Nation — has walked many thousands of kilometres more than that, usually with a pail of water in hand. The pail, she says, is meant to pique peoples’ interest and make them stop for a moment and consider why she’s carrying it. “The message is, water is very precious, and I will go to any lengths to . . . carry the water to the people,” Mandamin told Indigenous Rising.
Mandamin has been doing these walks since 2003, when she and a friend walked around Lake Superior. The next year, they walked around Lake Michigan, and over the following years, they continued to walk along bodies of water within their traditional land. This year is Mandamin’s final walk — a whopping 8,000 kilometre trek that will take her from Duluth, Minnesota, to Matane, Quebec.
Mandamin has been receiving a lot of support on the journey. “It’s really been the best that I’ve ever experienced because of the support from people,” she told the CBC. Recently, she was also the recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation.
She isn’t the only one concerned for the health of North American waterways. The Great Lakes are filling with an alarming number of microplastics, scientists say, not to mention other pollutants. The issue has become so pressing that the Government of Canada just passed a motion to ban the manufacture of microbeads, which will henceforth be considered a toxic substance due to their tendency to clog waterways and kill wildlife. Selling products with microbeads will also be illegal.
Mandamin says that her goal is to make sure all Canadians see the importance of preserving our waters. As she told Indigenous Rising, “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.”