water walk

Water Walkers, Protectors and community members participated in a Water Walk on the Spring Equinox, March 20, in the Saukiing Anishnaabekiing territory, from Saugeen First Nation to Sauble Beach. Hub photo

Hub Staff

A Water Walk held on the Spring Equinox, Saturday, March 20 within the Saukiing Anishnaabekiing territory, was one of hope and healing, said Walk Co-Organizer Tania Ritchie. "Praying for the water, also praying for community, putting our prayers into the water," said Ritchie.

Water was collected from the Saugeen River, followed by ceremony at the Aaron Roote Memorial Youth Centre before Water Walkers, Protectors and participants were to leave for the approximately 20 kilometre trek from Saugeen First Nation (SFN) to Sauble Beach.

SFN Elder Shirley John talked about the four nations coming together in a circle and praying for the water and said the biggest and strongest of the seven Grandfather Teachings that was coming through was Love. "You need to walk with love each and every day for all nations," she said.

"We're promoting health and wellness," said Water Walker and Walk Spokesperson Audra Root. "In particular for the youth, it's been very rough in the community, we've had a lot of death due to opioid," Root said, adding that she herself has been affected as she lost a daughter to opioids.

Root got involved in water walking in 2015 when she walked with notable Anishinaabe Water Walker Josephine Mandamin. Mandamin passed in 2019 but her dedication and legacy continues to inspire. Water walking is about the protection of the water, the earth and the environment, said Root, as well as a means to heal. "So it fits into what's happening in the Saugeen community," she said.

"We're trying to promote the culture and make the youth more aware of what our uniqueness is," Root said. "With the modern day society, the internet and everything, kids kind of tend to get away from things like the fire and coming and sitting with ancestors and just learning about our culture," Root said.

"That's where we're hoping to start," she said. "Right from the grass roots and to promote well being and give the youth an option to live in a positive way."

Root added that colonization as well as residential schools and day schools forcibly removing their culture from the people has had an impact. "It filters down through all of us so trying to heal past hurts and live in a good way and bring culture back," she said.

"With the water, because it's so significant for cleansing and healing, that's why we're carrying it to help cleanse the whole community right from the ground up, to help heal the land and to help, through the land, to heal the people," Root said.

Walk participant Rachel Mason said, "We want to send our prayers and we want [people who are struggling with addiction] to know that we are there with them and we're not here to judge them, we're just here to pray."

"Water is life, we are the carriers of life, and life is precious," Mason said.

Elder Ogimaabinesiikwe said their responsibility as Anishinaabe people is "that intimate relationship we have with the earth, the waters, creation."

"For us it has to do with picking up these ways and carrying it on into the future," Ogimaabinesiikwe said. "We can see around us what happens when we don't have that relationship and I think it's important to remember that these ways never meant to leave us, our Mother Earth never meant to leave us," she said.

"The water has consciousness so in us, this generation, we carry that cup of grief that they talked about so this is our healing," Ogimaabinesiikwe said. "We can just feel how happy our ancestors are that we're getting it," she said, adding that it's hard but it's not only for their people but for other nations.

"We have a knowing, I guess, that it is so meaningful and purposeful, and that the spirits hear us and that everything is waking up," she said.

In correspondence to Saugeen Shores Hub March 22, Water Walker and Co-Organizer Waasekom said there had been a lot of excitement and hope generated from Saturday's walk. "Now we’re focussed on reaching our most vulnerable relatives to let them know we’re thinking of them, that we love them, to keep holding on to life. New things are coming for our community so it’s time to reach out and catch it," Waasekom said.

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Water Walk participants paused for a photo following the approximately 20 kilometre trek from Saugeen First Nation to Sauble Beach, in Saukiing Anishnaabekiing territory March 20. Photo by Scott Parent