Anishinabe woman from Kitchener to walk length of Grand River

Anishinabe elder Mary Anne Caibaiosai to lead a 280 kilometre walk along the Grand River, from its source to Lake Erie and back.

'Our teachings tell us that water is sacred' says Mary Anne Caibaiosai as she prepares for her walk

Mary Anne Caibaiosai is leading the All Nations Grand River Water Walk. The Anishnaabe elder from Kitchener will be joined by people from all walks of life for the two week walk from the headwater of the river to Lake Erie and back. She is dedicating the walk to the memory of her sister Violet who is one of the original Water Walkers. (Joe Pavia/CBC)

Mary Anne Caibaiosai is going the extra mile to show her community how sacred water is: 174 miles — or 280 kilometres — to be exact. 

The Anishinabe elder is walking the length of the Grand River, from the river's source near Dundalk, Ont. to Lake Erie. The return trip will take two weeks. 

"Our teachings that tell us that water is sacred, it has life and without water we wouldn't be here," Caibaiosai told CBC K-W.

Inspired by 3-month walk

She was inspired to lead the All Nations Grand River Water Walk after taking part in a similar walk last year. 

That walk lasted three months and took travellers on a journey that started by Lake Superior, travelled around all the great lakes and ended at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.

"I was amazed at how transformative that walk was. It totally changed my whole perspective about water and how important it is," she said. 

"I wanted that feeling, that spirit, that change for other people to feel." 

The 2017 journey was led by Caibaiosai's inspiration, Josephine Mandemin, who she describes as the original water walker, along with Caibaiosai's deceased sister, to whom she has dedicated this walk.

What happens during the walk?

The walk will start on Sept. 15 with a ceremony, including a water song and prayers.

After the ceremony, Caibaiosai said a copper bucket or pail is dipped into the source of the river. Once it is filled with water, two people begin the walk.

"The man will carry the eagle staff. His role is to walk next to the woman and protect the woman," Caibaiosai said. "She is walking to protect the water in the pail and he is walking to protect her."

Caibaiosai said this is the first of a four year commitment walk the shores of the Grand River.


Joe Pavia


Joe Pavia is a Reporter/Editor with CBC K-W 89.1 FM. He's normally heard weekdays on The Morning Edition but also covers a wide range of news and feature stories for both radio and web. If you have a story idea, email Joe at Follow him on twitter @PaviaJoe1964