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Water and Indigenous Activism

Tar Sands Healing Walk in Fort McMurray

“We’re now stronger than ever to fight tar sands development across North America.”

June 28, 2014, Fort McMurray, Alberta – First Nations from across North America took part today in the fifth and final Healing Walk in Fort McMurray, Alberta, an annual event that organizers say has achieved its ultimate purpose of building unity and alliances among First Nations impacted by tar sands development in Canada and the United States. Fort McMurray, a traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering ground, is also the centre of tar sands development. The walk offered healing prayers to the land and to build strength and unity among people impacted by tar sands development.

“First Nations communities were once scared to share their stories about tar sands impacts, but the Healing Walk has been a safe place to share knowledge so that today First Nations are stronger than ever to fight tar sands development across North America,” said Eriel Deranger, of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

Indigenous people came from Houston, Alabama, and across Canada. First Nation leaders included the Grand Chief Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief Philip Stewart, Chief Allan Adam, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations, Chief Steve Courterielle, Mikisew Cree First Nation. Hundreds from nearby communities and across North America also joined the walk, including First Nations rapper Frank Waln, thirteen-year-old First Nation singer Takai Blaney and local doctor, John O’Connor.

On Friday there were a series or workshops about tar sands impacts. The recent Tsilhqot’in court case was top of mind and there were many conversations about the implications for future tar sands development.

“This is the last healing walk in the Athabasca region because it’s time to shed light on other communities impacted by tar sands,” said Jesse Cardinal, coordinator of Keepers of the Athabasca. “In order to stop the destruction, the healing has to start everywhere.”

The Healing Walk was organized by Keepers of the Athabasca, a network of First Nation, Metis and settler communities along the Athabasca River. There was a pipe ceremony before the walk, followed by a feast.

The Alberta tar sands produced approximately 1.9 million barrels of oil per day in 2012, but if industry and government’s expansion plans are approved that number could reach 5 million barrels per day by the end of 2030. This year, First Nations have witnessed the oil spill in Cold Lake, which still continues without a way to stop it. Just this week, eight experts in environmental science, policy and risk from Simon Fraser University called for a moratorium on all new tar sands development until there is a comprehensive policy-making process for energy development for North America.

Source Link: Tar Sands Healing Walk Website – Last News Release

Healing Walk

Mother Earth Water Walk 

The Mother Earth Water Walk is a well-publicized example of the decolonization of water in North America. It has been initiated by two Anishinawbe Grandmothers and a group of Anishinawbe Women and Men who have been raising awareness of critical water issues by walking the perimeter of the Great Lakes. Along with a group of supporters, they walked around Late superior in Spring 2003, around Lake Michigan in 2004, Lake Huron in 2005, Lake Ontario in 2006 and Lake Erie in 2007. The walk has continued each year and has created other similar initiatives across Canada, such as Katherine Morrisseau-Sinclair’s Lake Winnipeg Water Walk 2014.

Source:  Linton, J., Mabee, W., & Davidson, S. L. (2015). Water as a social opportunity. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Page 2019. Retrieved from,+and+a+group+of%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Ojibwe Grandmother and Water Walker Josephine Mandamin Honored for Conservation

She has walked more than 10,000 miles, along the banks of numerous rivers and lakes, and now Ojibwe grandmother Josephine Mandamin, Wikwemikong First Nation, has been recognized for her years of effort by a Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award.

The founder of the Mother Earth Water Walk was one of seven people recognized for Excellence in Conservation on Friday February 26 by the Ontario Heritage Trust, which works to identify, protect, renew and promote the diversities of nature and culture that keep the province vibrant. The awards are given annually for “exceptional contributions to conserving Ontario’s cultural and natural heritage,” according to the Ontario Heritage Trust site. 

Mandamin was recognized for her role in founding the Mother Earth Water Walk in 2003 as well as for holding symposiums and conferences in First Nations communities. She has walked the perimeter of all the Great Lakes, and numerous other waterways—for a total of more than 10,500 miles over the past five years.

“Ms. Mandamin is one of the two founding Grandmothers who started Water Walks,” the heritage site said. “She has performed these walks throughout Canada, Central America and the United States, and is one of three official Commissioners of the Anishinabek Women’s Water Commission who work to improve dialogue, communication and relations between the Anishinabek Nation (comprised of 39 First Nation communities), the government of Canada, and interested businesses, organizations and individuals.”

Mandamin, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, has gotten more than 100 First Nation communities to sign the First Nations Great Lakes Water Accord, the heritage site noted, as well as mentored First Nations citizens and youth. Her goal, as she told Indian Country Today Media Network back in 2011, is to make people aware of their dependence on water, as well as their connection to it.

“We want to raise the collective consciousness of people about the water,” Mandamin said, suggesting that people make it a daily practice to thank the water. “You will likely feel a lot better and better united with the water. It is human, it can sense, it can feel, it can hear what you’re saying.”

She was also quoted in a statement from the Union of Ontario Indians.

“I will go to any lengths to and direction to carry the water to the people,” Mandamin has said. “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.”

The Union of Ontario Indians also lauded Mandamin’s accomplishments, and expressed gratitude for her award.

“Elder Josephine Mandamin has walked the shorelines of five Great Lakes as well as in all four directions of Turtle Island,” said Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Anishinabek Nation, the Union of Ontario Indians, in a statement. “She takes care of the lifeblood of Mother Earth—water. Josephine has been bringing awareness about pollution, laws, fracking and the selling of the water. I congratulate her on such a great honor.

Source: Indian Country Media Network

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