Indigenous women lead walk around Hamilton Harbour to pray for safe water

Danielle Boissoneau wasn't in Hamilton long when she realized there were issues with the water.
Indigenous women lead the Dish With One Spoon territory's Hamilton Harbour Water Walk, a 42-kilometre walk around the harbour to promote and pray for the health and safety of the local water supply. (Danielle Boissoneau)

Danielle Boissoneau wasn't in Hamilton long when she realized there were issues with the water.

Boissoneau moved here about 15 years ago, and took a walk along the Hamilton Harbour shore with her kids. They came across a bunch of dead, decomposing fish that had met their end without spawning. Her kids reacted in a big way.

"They yelled," Boissoneau said. "It startled me."

And that, she said, is "my first memory of Hamilton Harbour."​

Boissoneau, who is Anishinaabe and lives on the west Mountain, will be one of the leaders in the Dish with One Spoon territory's Hamilton Harbour Water Walk today.

She and at least 20 others will embark on a 42-kilometre walk around the harbour. Everyone is welcome, regardless of race or gender. But Indigenous women, the traditional water keepers, are the driving force.

The third annual walk is a ceremony to pray for and celebrate water. Hamilton needs it, Boissoneau said.

The International Joint Commission has listed the harbour as an "area of concern" since 1987. While there's been significant investment and progress, the harbour's water quality still suffers under the weight of sewage effluent, run off and industrial pollution.

In the past, Boissoneau has carried the copper water pot and staff on the ceremonial journey. It begins at Bayfront Park around 6 a.m., and finishes around 3 p.m. in the same spot. There will be a sacred fire, and a feast.

"For me, it's kind of atmosphere where the hair on my skin stands on end," she said of the walk. "It's really beautiful and phenomenal."

Lynda Henriksen of Hamilton will be there too. Water is tied to health and life, she said.

"Safe and clean water and its connection to our lives is so strong," she said. "We have to have respect for her. We have a responsibility of stewardship."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca