Nibi, Gizaagi’igo, Gimiigwechiwenimigo, Gizhawenimigo
Water, we love you, we thank you, we respect you
Nibi Nagamowin (The Water Song)
We make our way through J.C. Saddington park to the waterfront where beautiful Lake Ontario stretches before our eyes. Bathed in early morning light, its waters glisten and melt into the coral sky.
Lake Ontario bathed in morning light, one of the reasons we joined Great Lakes Water Walk
These waters that feed our bodies and souls are the reason we are here so early on a Sunday morning, on what will turn out to be the hottest day of the year. Because of Water, we are part of the Nibi Mosewin Onji Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin — Great Lakes Water Walk, an Indigenous-led event calling on people of all creeds and ancestries to honour, respect and protect water.
We walk #BecauseOfWater
Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island have always believed that Water or Nibi is alive. It has its own spirit, it has memory. Once upon a time the rest of us knew it too. But somewhere along the way we forgot. We gave in to our economic system that demanded everything should have a price. So we imprisoned water into plastic and attached a price tag. We disrespect this precious gift, pollute our oceans with garbage, and turn our rivers and lakes into toxic sludge. Forgetting that if our waters are sick, then so are we. We are almost 70 per cent water after all.
It’s time we re-imagined our relationship with Water
Fortunately, that memory of the sacred spirit of Water still lives inside us. In all those modern day rituals that involve water. In crowds that flock to lakes, rivers and oceanside to splash, swim, paddle or simply sit by the edge and listen.
Hundreds of people joined the walk to show respect for and commit to protect Water
It is those memories that brought together hundreds of people to walk with Grandmother Josephine and other elders in honour of the Great Lakes. Water Walks were started by Anishinaabe Elder from Manitoulin Island Josephine Mandamin who in 2003 began her trek around Lake Superior to raise awareness around the need to respect and protect this magnificent body of water. Since then, she has walked around all five Great Lakes and along St. Lawrence River. Her colossal endeavour has also inspired water walks all through Turtle Island. For Toronto, however, this event was first of a kind inviting people to honour the beautiful Lake Ontario and multiple streams and rivers — the lifelines of our city.
Lake Ontario and multiple streams and rivers, Toronto’s lifelines
The Great Lakes Water Walk started in two groups in the opposite ends of Greater Toronto Area, collecting water in copper buckets from Credit and Humber in the West, Rouge and Don River in the east, eventually coming together at the foot of Toronto and culminating in a water blessing ceremony and a celebration.
Two groups of water walkers come together for a water blessing ceremony and celebration
We joined the western group, small at first but steadily growing as we made our way along the 20 kilometre route. Just like a small stream burgeons, eventually turning into a mighty river.
Our group of walkers kept growing like a stream burgeoning into a river
We walked through parks and residential areas, across bridges and along the waterfront. Lake Ontario never too far away, shimmering, dancing, whispering of other waters near and far.
Lake Ontario, always closeby, whispering of other waters near and far
It whispered of the sweet, crystal clear water in my grandparents’ well. That first refreshing sip I can almost taste. My reflection shimmering in a bucket. Water splashing down my legs as I carry the bucket into the house. Of a lively brook that hugged my grandparents’ orchard. I loved wading through it, my feet numb with cold, picking leaves of mint that grew along the edge, rubbing them between my fingers to release the smell. Of a restless mountain river that ran through the city of my childhood. Of all the powerful, relentless streams around the world that carve rocks and cut through stone.
River Prut, the river of my childhood
Of the awe-inspiring expanse of Great Lakes and enticing waters of their smaller cousins across Ontario. The waters that I have so often explored in a canoe. The waters that have soothed me, wrapped me in their morning mist, and tested my resolve and stamina on more than one occasion. Of the joyful singing of a waterfall in the spring and of crushing waves of the Atlantic. Of the water’s playfulness and its power to soothe and heal.
Water nourishes our bodies and souls, heals and inspires us, brings peace and joy
As we near the end of the walk, I remember the Wave Sound sculpture by Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore. We came across it in Gros Morne park, one of the four installed across Canada. These huge cones urge visitors to pause and listen: to the ocean washing the shores of Gros Morne, to the mountain lake in the Rockies, to mighty Lake Superior in Pukaskwa and magnificent waters of Georgian Bay. The Water speaks to us. It’s time we stopped and listened. Time we re-imagined our relationship with Water and showed her respect she deserves.
Sound Wave sculpture in Gros Morne: Water speaks to us — time we listened
To learn more about the Great Lakes Water Walk and what actions you can take to honour and protect water, visit http://greatlakeswaterwalk.ca/