Panel discusses importance of water

·4 min read

With the ongoing water crisis, it’s time to teach young generations how to survive because their future is going to look different from today, says Plains Cree scholar and Water Walker Tasha Beeds.

Beeds was one of the four speakers who was invited to the online panel discussion held by Omushkego Nation Rebuilding Initiative Wednesday.

The other three panellists included an Anishinaabe community leader and activist Liz Osawamick, residential school survivor Leo Metatawabin and the managing director for Eighth Fire Solutions, Mary Boyden.

The speakers shared stories and highlighted the importance of water.

This summer, Beeds walked over 1,000 kilometres for the Saskatchewan River and to raise awareness about the water crisis. As she moved across the land, she saw starving skinny bears. There were hardly any birds or insects and there were no berries, she said. What she saw was eerie and frightening.

“That’s my grandchildren’s territory. Where are they going to go? Where are we going to go? If people will fight to the death for toilet paper, what are they going to do when there isn’t enough water?” she wondered. “I want our future generations to know I didn’t just sit idly by. That I moved across the land carrying the message of the water.”

Beeds, who also walked for Junction Creek in Sudbury, said it’s time to teach the young generation how to survive.

“Take your children into the bush, show them where the underground water streams are, show them how to live. Teach them how to fast, how to live without food and water for those realities,” she said. “I have complete and total faith in our ancestors and our ways of being and knowing. We’re the ones that hold the keys, we always have, we just have to recover them. And Water Walking is one way."

Osawamick echoed similar comments. She talked about the annual Water Walks in the Kawarthas, which started on Mother’s Day weekend in 2010. The first walk was around Rice Lake.

“We walk for the water. We always do a prayer, we pray for the water. We pray for everyone that’s there. We smudge everyone, make sure everyone is okay, in good spirits,” she said. “We want to release everything and so when we smudge with medicine, we smudge our mind, body and spirit to lead these Water Walks in a good way.”

After the first walk, they came with the group’s name Nibi Emosaawdamajig or Those Who Walk for the Water. When they meet, the group includes men and women. People from all races and walks of life are welcome to attend the walks. Women are asked to wear skirts, men to wear pants or long shirts past their knees.

“Water is alive, water is life. It has a spirit. We continue to do that for our people, for the future generations because we want our future generation to have clean water,” Osawamick said. “It sustains us. It has everything to do with life.”

Boyden talked about how resource development disturbs land and water and creates unbalance.

The lack of balance created the “mess we’re in,” she said.

“When balance is able to come – between people, nations, men and women, past and the future – then we’re able to progress,” Boyden said.

She brought up the question of how to reclaim the land after mining is done. In the past 120 years, the mining activity in Timmins area has left behind land and water that has been “disturbed,” she said.

“It’s only in the last 15 years, that any kind of work towards really reclaiming this land and water has happened,” she said.

Metatawabin said growing up on the land was peaceful with lots of “wonders” to see.

He remembered sitting by the river, watching it flow after the ice break up. When he started attending St. Anne’s residential school, he lost the connection to the land.

Water is alive and has a spirit, he said at the panel.

“The rivers are blood veins of Mother Earth. The ice is our brother. The snow is our sister,” he said.

Metatawabin shared a story of a spiritual experience from his past.

He was swimming in a lake that had a dock. Everyone else was a good swimmer except for Metatawabin who wasn’t taught how to swim. When others started jumping off the dock and diving into the deep end, he followed them. When he came up to the surface, he realized he couldn’t swim. He started grabbing another person, almost drowning that person and creating havoc.

“That's when I found something inside told me I could swim underwater. So, I took a deep breath and went unto water towards the dock, towards safety,” he said.

Environmental literacy needs to be taught, Metatawabin said calling coastal communities to work together to endorse their water rights.

“First Nations communities need to develop a water policy to ensure the survival of our way of life. The right to flow,” he said. “This policy will enable First Nations to develop an environmental management plan, environmental protection plan, boost our economy or water safety, maintain the traditional names of our area.”

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com

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