July 6, 2014
On the morning of January 12, 2013, as I sat down with my coffee to read the newspaper, a headline caught my attention: “Lake Winnipeg Nominated for Threatened Lake of The Year, 2013′ award!”. Lake Winnipeg is the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world. I sat there in disbelief; how could this have happened I wondered? As I pondered that I became saddened as I recalled other articles and events that had been trying to give warning to the diminishing state of that beautiful lake. I struggled with the “why” question for some time, but then I realized there was a far more important question: what was I going to do about it?
I am an Anishinabe woman. Canada knows us as Ojibway, but in our language we are Anishinabe. My Anishinabe name is Animkiiquay (Thunder Woman), and I am a member of the Makwa (Bear) clan as well as a 4th Degree Midewiwin of the 3 Fires Midewiwin Lodge. It is this strong connection to the Midewiwin teachings as well as being a wife, mother, sister, aunt, and grandmother that moved me to do something about the unhealthy state of Lake Winnipeg.
According to the teachings of the Anishinaabe, the earth, the land, the water, the plants, and all things of creation have life, and are imbued with a spirit placed within them by, and from, the Creator. Even the air has a spirit we are taught, manifested before our eyes when it moves and shows its mischief, or its gentleness or its force in the winds. It is this belief that the Creator’s spirit of Creation exists in all things which led the early Christian churches to denounce our beliefs.
Our belief that all things of creation have a spirit is not unique to the Anishinaabe. Most Indigenous tribes of North, Central and South America have similar teachings. In fact, sailors of all Nations including those of Europe, talk of the oceans and seas and lakes upon which they sail as though they were talking of a person – often a woman. Ancient Rome and Greece, and other peoples of Europe, such as Scandinavia, as well as China, Russia, Africa, Japan had teachings in which they spoke of spirits who lived in, and controlled the movements of, the water. For some in this modern world, those teachings have been consigned to the world of mythological fiction, inconsistent with modern Christianity, and form no basis for life’s current reality. For others, however, that is not the case.
Recently, in August 2012, the Iwi (Maori) people of New Zealand, signed an agreement with the Crown, stipulating that the Whangannui River, the third largest river in that country, has a legal identity. That agreement meant that from that point forward, the river was recognized as a person. This agreement came about because of the harm being done to it by development, and the importance of the river to the Iwi, not simply as a means of transportation or source of drinking water, but because of the place the river held in their belief system. The Crown’s agreement was recognition of the validity of that belief system. After all, if a corporation can be a legal person, why cannot a river, which contains and sustains far more life.
I recalled reading about the scientific research of Dr. Masaru Emoto who documented the affect that positive thought and prayer can have on water. His studies found that prayer, song, and kind words can, in fact, transform water. In one study, he showed that prayer and song could cause water, which had earlier formed misshapen crystals when frozen, to form perfectly shaped crystals. This belief in the beneficial effect of song and prayer is something that Anishinabe people have believed and practiced for thousands of years, and it reinforced my belief that we could help the lake.
I love the earth and I feel a strong connection to her waters and I want to ensure that children 7 generations into the future will have clean water to drink and that the earth will continue to show its beauty to them. But this endeavor is not just about clean water to drink, or a nice countryside…it is a journey intended to help the spirit of the water to heal Lake Winnipeg.
I undertook to organize, and lead, the Lake Winnipeg Water Walk. I came to do this because of our teachings, and because of a dream I had. Since that dream, I have been working for the day when this walk will start. July 12 will be that day, when I and others will begin with a water ceremony in the northern community of Norway House and we take our first steps on the road around the lake as far as we can walk. We estimate that the walk will take 28 days and we will cover a distance of approximately 1,050 KMS. (It could have been longer but on the East side of the lake there is not yet a passable road system.)
The 3 Fires Midewiwin Lodge to which I belong is committed to protecting our story and history through traditional teachings, ceremonies, and songs. These teachings help us live a life based on the 7 sacred teachings – Truth, Honesty, Respect, Love, Wisdom, Humility and Courage. Over the years, many Midewiwin leaders including 3 Fires Grand Chief, Bawdwaywidun (Edward Benton Banaise), shared their knowledge of the teaching, songs, and rituals and healing ceremonies of the Midewiwin. Those teachings included a the teaching of a beautiful sacred water bundle which includes, prayers, ceremonies and songs and has been passed on through generations of women. Bawdwaywidun shared the water bundle teachings, ceremonies and songs with the women of the 3 Fires Lodge, preparing us for the time when he would transfer responsibility for the complete bundle to us. This helped me and other Anishinabe women understand our sacred connection to the water and our responsibility to stand up and protect the earth and the life sustaining waters of this Creation.
In 1996 the Mideahnikwe Society emerged within the 3 Fires Society ensuring that this water bundle will never be lost or forgotten. The Mideahnikwe consists of direct generational lines of grandmothers, mothers and daughters who have promised to ensure the water bundle will continue 7 generations into the future. I am a proud member of the Mideahnikwe and I am committed to defending the waters of this land, which is the life blood of our Mother, the Earth.
I recalled our Grand Chief, Bawdwaywidun, asking the women of the 3 Fires Lodge what actions we were going to take in order to protect and heal the waters. I remembered how a grandmother of our lodge, Josephine Mandamin, stood up and took action. She led the Mother Earth Water Walk that involved walking around the 5 Great Lakes and then the St. Lawrence River. She inspired us all, so much so that many of us became involved in the 2011 Four Directions Mother Earth Water Walk. I remembered my experience walking for the water then and how fulfilling it felt to do my part in sending my thoughts, prayers, and positive energy to the water. I recalled conversations I had with my lodge sister Sharon Day as she described her plan to initiate and organize a water walk for the Mississippi River in the spring of 2013.
I thought back to a documentary on the Nature of Things, entitled “Save My Lake”. This film highlighted the fact that since the 90’s, Lake Winnipeg has been undergoing an ecological shift that if it continues to be ignored, will result in the death of the lake. I felt that we could not let this happen.
It was then that I spoke these words – “I will help Lake Winnipeg heal by leading a spiritual water walk designed to call on the spirit of the water by using the prayers, songs and ceremonies of the water bundle to help her heal.”
I recognized that I had to begin to form a relationship with Lake Winnipeg by letting the Spirit of the Lake know who I was, what I was going to do and I had to clearly announce my commitment to her. I thought about those words and understood how I was going to approach her. I remembered the beautiful Water Ceremonies that the Mideahnikwe Society has led when we gather for our own ceremonies. One of the main reasons we conduct such ceremonies is to give thanks to the water spirits for the water we will be using. We want to ensure that the water we use will nourish and heal the spirits of our relatives who travel from the 4 directions of Mother Earth to sit with the little boy Waterdrum, which is the at the center of out ceremony gathering.
I felt that by doing the water offerings, the Grandmother Spirits that take care of all waters would help me get ready for the walk. I decided that I would honor the lake with a full water ceremony each season leading up to the walk – fall, winter, spring and summer.
On the night I made that commitment, I had a dream about the Lake and was sent a beautiful message.
The first Water Ceremony I did was on a Sunday in late October 2013. My niece, Michelle and I traveled to the home of Deb Dyck, a friend of mine who knew where I could have direct access to the lake. I picked Michelle up at 11:00 A.M. and as we traveled down the highway we felt filled with positive energy and excitement. When we arrived at Deb’s home we shared a cup of tea and, as we put the water offering together, I told the story of my commitment to complete this walk. We soon found ourselves on a dock reaching a long way out into the lake at Victoria Beach. The winds that day were very strong and the waves were very high and forceful. Yet I was not afraid. I felt like the Lake was excited to see me, and was speaking to me, telling me about her sickness and how long she has waited for Anishinabequayuk (Anishinabe women) to step forward and help her heal.
The water sprayed over us as the waves hit the dock and the strong winds pushed us forward. My heart filled with love for the lake, and as the ceremony began, I called out to the Grandmother Water spirits to come and listen to our pleas. We sang a water song and made our way to the edge of the dock and offered our clan ties and food offering. As though to show how hungry for healing she was, the Lake immediately wrapped herself around our offering and swallowed it, taking it deep into her depths. It was a powerful moment, and I realized the truth of what our elders had been telling us all along.
I found myself looking into the tear-filled eyes of my niece Michelle and my friend Deb. No words were shared; all we could do was give in to the moment, and cry and hug each other. The ride home was filled with our own reflections of what we experienced and an incredible feeling of thanksgiving that we are ANISHINABEQUAY!
I know that this will be the start of an incredible journey to not only heal the lake but will also bring to Anishinabe people a great teaching that is ours, and that will stir their blood memory and help them feel and know what it means to be Anishinabe, perhaps, for some, for the first time.
Every human being needs to feel they belong – during my early years this was something I yearned. This is critical for each human being as articulated in a quote I read
“For every human being to feel connected, we must have the feeling of belonging. That is one of the values and benefits of a culture: it creates the feeling of belonging. If for some reason, while you were growing up, you did not develop the feeling of belonging, a search will be triggered and restlessness will be present in your heart. You will have a hole inside you, something missing, until you find your place and your people.”
I know on a personal level the truth of these words.
I invite you all to be a part of this great healing experience.