Nga’ zichigee, nibi onjii: We do it for the water

By Mary Anne Caibaiosai

Photo by Joe Pavia, CBC/Radio-Canada. Used by permission. 

Boozhoo Nindawemaganidoog! Nodin Ikwe Ndizhnikaaz. Mukwa ndodem. Wiikwemkoong Manido Minising ndoonjibaa. E-kinomaagaziid ndaaw. My English name is Mary Anne Caibaiosai and I am the lead for the All Nations Grand River Water Walk. I began this journey after I walked with the late Josephine Mandamin; our first Anishnaabe water walker who walked around all Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence, starting in 2003. During her last walk in 2017, I was hooked.

Each morning we started at pre-dawn, watching Creation open up to our spirit, our ears, our eyes and our hearts. There is magic in the sound of the smallest beings at that time, the crickets, bees, and frogs as they start their chorus of songs. Our ears heard the symphony of robins, red-winged blackbirds, crows, loons and blue jays; and our spirits thrilled to recognize this pattern each morning while we watched Creator’s palette in the eastern sky. Peach, pink, lavender, soft purple, robin’s egg blue; all of this opening for our eyes after watching the stars emblazoned like diamonds against the black. Those sky beings, who we call our original teachers, watched from above each day and we witnessed the sunrise each morning. This was a gift.

As we began each day of the walk, we smudged to clear our minds, eyes, ears, and our hearts. We laid down our tobacco, our prayers and intentions. After those words, we walked following the protocols and teachings Josephine-baa had shared and gifted; the women carrying the pail and the men walked next to her or behind her, carrying the eagle staff. The staff represents vision, and so it was the men who ensured the safety of the pail and the women. In today’s world; in this time, it would be good if we remembered and honoured those teachings; that we help one another.

When we walked through the countryside and within the cities, we were confronted with many challenges that affected the weight of the pail and the staff; making them heavy. Life too is like that; we don’t know what will come our way, yet we continue to walk. The traffic and frustration of drivers rushing to their destinations was the hardest part; sometimes we were jeered and yelled at, but sometimes we heard supportive words or honks from drivers. We were challenged to cross busy roads safely; but we had support from many allies and helpers. When we had the pleasure of walking along country roads, we felt the support from the four legged; horses and cattle that we passed as they stood in fields along those roads were more honouring of the good work we were doing. They danced, some ran to the fences to watch us; staring at the eagle staff and neighing, seeming to cheer us on. We saw egrets, loons, blue herons soar overhead as they watched the eagle staff. All of Creation was good to us.

There were many teachings on that journey; many challenges that we overcame. It would take a book to write those teachings about humility, connection to Creation; commitment to a cause bigger than ourselves; continuing the work for the waters and walking in her footsteps. We came to understand who had access to the waters; the wealthy, the privileged, golf courses, tourism, businesses and farmlands. Those who originally lived there, the Haudenosaunee, the Anishnaabe, they had to ask permission to walk next to the waterways. That too was a teaching. 

Along that journey, I thought of our people and how they once lived along the waterways; how they respected her, showed reciprocity; and lived with a responsibility to ensure she always flowed as she was meant to flow! Her power may have been diminished because of dams, but she is still stronger than man! She will flow once we have stopped!

Megwetch! I look forward to our September walk; and encourage those who cannot walk, that you think about Nibi, about her spirit; without her we would not be here. We all ask that she be acknowledged, sang to, greeted and held! She is life! Nga’ zichigee, nibi onjii. We do it for the water!

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