Sept. 28, 2018
Partway through their journey, the All Nations Grand River Water Walk participants stopped to enjoy a hot meal at Wilfrid Laurier University Indigenous Student Centre in Brantford.
The group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous walkers, led by Anishinaabe Elder and Laurier alumni (MSW ‘17) Mary Anne Caibaiosai, started their journey at the source of the Grand River on Sept. 15. The walk took the participants to the mouth of the Grand River in Port Maitland and back, carrying the source water in a pail. The journey is a way of honouring the river, as the walkers pray and sing along the route.
Caibaiosai was inspired by Josephine Mandamin, the founder of the original Water Walks along the Great Lakes. This year’s Grand River walk is also held in memory of Caibaiosai’s sister Violet, who was one of the original participants with Mandamin. Caibaiosai’s sisters Loretta Davenport, Ernestine Caibaiosai, Shirly Caibaiosai and nephew Adam Doerwald, also took part in the memorial walk.
Caibaiosai walked with Mandamin a year before and found the journey to be life-changing.
“It was so transformative. Everything just changed: my outlook about creation and being a part of creation,” she said. “When I finished my master’s degree at Laurier, in my mind, I wondered what I was going to do next.”
The answer came in three ways – a conversation with Laurier’s Indigenous Initiatives Senior Advisor Jean Becker, a gift of a Miigis shell from Mandamin and a donated pail – inspiring Caibaiosai to walk for the Grand River. In November 2017, she and a group of volunteers decided to create the All Nation Grand River Water Walk and put a call out for assistance.
Margaret Neveau, Indigenous student support coordinator at Laurier’s Brantford campus, heard the call and wanted to help. By day five of the journey that started in Dundalk, Ont., the group had reached Brantford. The Indigenous Student Centre provided locally made stew, bannock, salad and pies to the hungry walkers.
“We're thinking of them as they're walking and we want to provide healthy, nutritious meals for supporting the walkers,” said Neveau. “What Caibaiosai does is very near and dear to our hearts too, so anything that we can do to support the work that she does, we're there for her.”
Caibaiosai was thankful for the meal.
“While we're walking, we're in ceremony. All that time, we're praying and trying to sing for the water, so it's pretty draining and just knowing that we have a meal is wonderful,” she said.
The walkers expected to finish their journey with a ceremony at Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area near Grand Valley, Ont. Follow the walk through an interactive map.
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