Beloved water protector Josephine Mandamin dies

Annishnabe elder sparked resurgence of ceremonial duty to care and pray for waterways

WIKWEMIKONG FIRST NATION — Annishnabe water protector and activist Josephine Mandamin died Friday morning. She was 77 years old.

Starting in 2003, Mandamin led a movement of indigenous water protectors to carry out a series of ceremonial water walks along the perimeters of waterways across Turtle Island. These water walks engaged indigenous women to connecting the people with and pray for the water, which Mandamin taught was a traditional responsibility given to women and grandmothers. Mandamin also engaged the public in the water walks — raising awareness of pollution increasing on indigenous waterways.

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett, marked the passing of Mandamin, calling her a role model, teacher and advocate.

“Known as Grandmother Water Walker or Grandmother Josephine, she devoted her life to raising awareness of the connection water has with all living things. She taught all of us of the fragility of water, and the risks that exist to the health and sustainability of our waterways.

The important work she started through Mother Earth Water Walk and the Great Lakes Guardians’ Council lays the foundation for the future of the Great Lakes Waterways, and for the next seven generations of water walkers and water warriors from across Turtle Island.

She has touched many of our lives and we are truly grateful to have gained knowledge and wisdom from this inspirational woman and her life’s work.”

The Chiefs of Ontario also offered condolences on Mandamin’s passing. Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald issued a statement.

“Josephine, known as a tireless advocate and Water Walker, dedicated her life to the protection and preservation of the Great Lakes and surrounding waters, while raising awareness that water is not only sacred, but also our lifeline. Josephine will be fondly remembered for her warmth, generosity, knowledge and greatly missed amongst many,” said Archibald.

Mandamin walked more than 17,000 kilometres around Turtle Island’s Great Lakes and other waterways in an effort to raise awareness about the human responsibility piece of respecting water.

Mandamin received the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation in 2016. She also played a key role is establishing the Great Lakes Protection Act during her time as Chief Commissioner of the Anishinabek Nation Women’s Water Commission.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Josephine Mandamin and the community of Wiikwemkoong First Nation.  Josephine’s work as a Water Protector is world-renowned and her remarkable journey and contributions to the renewal, rebirth and re-growth of our waters will be remembered for years to come,” said Regional Chief Archibald. “Josephine has left behind a significant space in the movement for the protection of our water. I encourage us to stand together during this time and continue her important work and move forward her vision of protecting and maintaining the Nibi to ensure a better future for our next generations. We will cherish the memory of Josephine and we wish her well on her journey to the spirit world.”

Funeral services were held in Mandamin’s home community of Wikwemikong on Monday.

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