Anishinaabek Perspectives on the Water Crisis

by Andrea Desormiers

My name is Andrea Desormiers and I am a second-year post-secondary student. I am currently attending Cambrian College in the general arts program, to then next year transfer to medical laboratory technology program. I am currently taking all the required electives for the lab tech program to lighten my course load next year when I start the actual course for said program. I decided to do this to be able to enjoy the program more and not have an exceed amount of schoolwork, because I also have a job at Ripe restaurant. I knew that having a full course load and having a job would be simply be too much. After graduating from Cambrian, I would love to work for a while as a medical laboratory technician, save up a bit of money and then get my master’s degree in hematology or virology. Afterwards I am considering getting my PhD in the field to be able to work in a cancer research lab, if my master’s does not allow me to do so. Even if I do not need my PhD to work in a research lab, I am still probably going to get one because obtaining a PhD in the medical field has always been a goal of mine. Also, I would love to be able to join a team that is working to advance Immunotherapy because I am simply amazed of the medical breakthrough’s that it has brought. 

I have talked to Martina Osawamick also known has Nokomis Martina. She is an elder, or in other terms, grandmother who works at the Cambrian. I asked her if she knew anything about the water crisis. She explained how poorly the people of the Six Nations of the Grand River were living.  Nokomis also explained how she and other members of the reserve would bring gifts such as tobacco and would also pray for the water. She also explained to me that on the reserve, people believe that water is a source of life. They believe in the water serpent which is the spirit of the water. They pray and have water ceremonies in the attempt to revive and heal the water holes and the lakes on the reserves. On that, she started talking about Josephine Mandamin a visionary that fought to protect the water sources by doing water walks throughout the great lakes. Nokomis Martina encouraged me to do some more research on Josephine and her niece Autumn Peltier. Josephine Mandamin was the person who started the water walk movement in 2003 around the perimeter of Lake Superior. The water walk is done by walking around the waters of the reserves and praying throughout the walk. Josephine started this journey out of concern about the increasing pollution in the lakes and rivers.

For the Anishinaabe, water is associated with Mother Earth and it is the responsibility of grandmothers to lead other women in praying for and protecting the water.

She walked the talk: Farewell to water warrior grandmother Josephine Mandamin, 2019

This is why she encourages people to reconnect with the earth and its water sources. She believed in the power of healing through showing respect and love to our beloved environment. Her last walk before her passing was done in 2017.

In total, it is estimated that she walked 23, 000km, a distance the equivalence to half the circumference of the Earth. We would encourage everyone to continue carrying Grandmother Josephine’s teachings about Nibi (water) with them in their hearts as we move forward into a critical time for our planet. There has never been more urgency for humanity to make the connection with the Earth once again and take steps to align ourselves with sustainable ways of thinking, behaving and being

She walked the talk: Farewell to water warrior grandmother Josephine Mandamin, 2019

Autumn Peltier is Josephine’s great niece who is following in her great aunt’s footsteps, by increasing awareness about the water crisis everywhere she goes. She is a 15-year-old Canadian Indigenous activist. Autumn travels the world and delivers incredible speeches at events such as the Global Landscapes Forum, in the hopes of bringing more attention and help towards the poor living conditions that many people on the reserves are living in. “Peltier, who is nominated for the 2019 International Children’s Peace Prize by the David Suzuki Foundation, has spread her message at hundreds of events around the world” (The Canadian Press. 2019). Miss Peltier was also “named the chief water commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation, a political advocacy group for 40 First Nations across Ontario, when she was just 14 years old” (The Canadian Press. 2019).  I strongly believe that everyone should follow in Josephine’s and Autumn’s footsteps even if some of us do not believe in their beliefs about water. They are not wrong when they say that we have to love and care for our waters. Water is base of every living thing and it should be treated with respect. Furthermore, no one should have to boil their water just to be able to drink it. Clean portable water should be accessible for everyone, especially the people who walk thousands of kilometers to try and nurture not only our waters, but nature itself.

The organization that I have chosen was the Water First organization. This organization is run by first year Indigenous graduates in the field of water science. All of the people in this organization come from seven communities on Manitoulin Island. All of these people have knowledge, certificates and training in the field of water science. “We’ve spent that time building relationships and trust with new communities that want to partner with us. We’ve revisited our curriculum and teaching approach. We’ve raised money from foundations, individuals and corporations. We have commitments from community partners” (A Solution that works, n.d.).

To help with this cause, people can:

  • Donate to Water First. Give gifts to the reserves in need to show support
  • Go on water walks with the people on the reserves
  • Pollute less (recycle more, composting)
  • Treat water like the Indigenous communities do (water has a life)
  • Follow Autumn Peltier’s Instagram page (autumn.peltier) and repost things that she posts to increase awareness about the crisis. 
  • Have fundraisers at school to help the Water First Organization

Quote from Josephine Mandamin herself:

Water is alive. It needs to be respected. We must recognize her as a living entity.

She walked the talk: Farewell to water warrior grandmother Jospehine Mandamin, 2019.

Quote from Autumn Peltier:

We can’t eat money or drink oil.

The Canadian Press, 2019.


The Canadian Press. (2019, September 28). Canadian indigenous water activist Autumn Peltier addresses UN on clean water. Retrieved from

WaterDocs. (2019, February 22). She walked the talk: Farewell to water warrior grandmother Josephine Mandamine. Ecologos. Retrieved from

Water First Education & Training. (n.d.). A solution that works. Retrieved from

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