It was a cool, overcast day in late April when my son Kai and I decided to take our exchange student Renaud (from France) on a short bike ride around a small lake that connects to Lake Superior via the Current River. We wanted him to witness our Great Lake Superior and the giant that sleeps within it.
As we were riding, we passed a woman dressed in traditional Anishinaabe clothing, carry a staff in one hand and a copper bucket in the other. I’m not sure either of the boys noticed her but she caught my attention for just a moment. We continued our ride, stopped atop the dam which connects Boulevard Lake to the Current River and eventually empties into Lake Superior. We showed Renaud the Sleeping Giant and tried to help him understand just how vast Lake Superior was. As we mounted our bikes and began to ride, the mysterious woman with the copper bucket appeared again. This time, as we passed, my son inquired about who she may be and what she might be doing. As we rode, I suggested that we could stop, turn around and he could ask her the very questions that were on my mind as well. The moment passed. Opportunity lost.
As we loaded the truck and began the drive home I thought about how fitting it was that we took Renaud to Lake Superior. A walk along a body of water, whether it be to fish or simply to explore was what I often did with my own father and how my father spent time with his. It’s also what I love doing with my own son. Water has a way of connecting us.
Water also connects my class . We began the school year reading “Paddle to the Sea”, a book written in 1941 by Holling Clancy Holling . It’s about a young Indigenous boy who carves a wooden replica of himself paddling a canoe. The story follows the journey of the little canoe through the Great Lakes to its eventual destination; the Atlantic Ocean. The story was one that I had forgotten about for many years. I remember watching the National Film Board of Canada’s adaptation of the book many years ago in the 1970’s! This year, while reading the book, we tracked Paddle’s journey in “real time” via Google Earth.
My, how learning has changed! Technology has made our world smaller and more connected. I believe it has given my students a greater sense of their place in the world and an understanding of how they can make a difference.
Through our learning journey, my students had gained a far better understanding of how GREAT their Great Lakes were than I ever had at their age, but what still alluded me was whether they understood that this great resource was also at risk. And then it happened! On a Saturday afternoon in mid May I opened the Ontario College of Teacher’s Professionally Speaking magazine and this is what I found….
Could this possibly be the mysterious woman Kai, Renaud and I had seen on that day in April? I had to find out. I needed to hear her story. I needed my child to hear her story. I needed my students to hear her story. We had to connect! So I reached out…
Within 24 hours Josephine, Joanne and I had connected and another learning journey was beginning to flow.
Nokomis Josephine Mandamin’s story is simply incredible and inspiring. Along with other women, men and young people, Nokomis has walked around all of the Great Lakes to raise awareness of our need to protect Nibi (water). Nokomis is a difference maker. Personally, I compare her to a modern day Terry Fox.
Ironically, Josephine is from Thunder Bay. I simply cannot explain why I have not heard her story until now. But now I know, my child knows and my students know Nokomis’ story. We have all read “The Water Walker”, written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson. Nokomis loves Nibi and she wants to bring awareness of the importance of protecting it. My students and I were so inspired by her story that me made a video to share their thoughts and feelings with her. We have also podcasted about Josephine in our M.A.D (Make A Difference) Podcast series.
The “Water Walker” ends with a question, similar to one that I often ask my students, which is…. “How are YOU going to make a difference?”
Nokomis asks…. “What are YOU going to do about it?”
On Monday, June 11 Nokomis and Joanne will be visiting our classroom. To honour Nokomis and to help her protect Nibi my students and I an idea to become “Junior Water Walkers”. We will pick a body of water that we will “adopt” and work to help protect it. We will figure out the details “as we go” We reached out to Joanne to see if this would be an initiative that she thought Josephine would appreciate and this was her response:
We are truly hoping that other classes around the Great Lakes, across Canada and throughout the world will be as inspired by Nokomis’ story as we are and join us in becoming Junior Water Walkers to honour Josephine Madamin, continue her walk and protect Nibi.
To add you class to the map below simply fill in this Junior Water Walkers form!