New Brunswick

Water walkers make ceremonial journey from Nova Scotia to Maine to pray for water

Mi'kmaw grandmother Dorene Bernard and a group of people concerned about protecting water are in the middle of a six-week, 600-kilometre ceremonial walk from Nova Scotia to Maine to raise awareness about the importance of safe and clean water.

Group of water walkers are travelling through traditional territory of the Wabanaki Confederacy

Water Walker Dorene Bernard says the walk has been challenging but it has taught the group a lot about their abilities. (Dorene Bernard/submitted)

Mi'kmaw grandmother Dorene Bernard and a group of people concerned about protecting water are in the middle of a six-week, 600-kilometre ceremonial walk from Nova Scotia to Maine to raise awareness about the importance of safe and clean water.

The Wabanaki Water Walkers are trekking across Ckuwaponahkik, or the Dawnland, the traditional territory of the Wabanaki Confederacy. They are making the ceremonial journey, through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine to pray for all water.

The journey started in Sipekne'katik (Indian Brook First Nation, N.S.) on May 20 by the Shubenacadie River, where a group has been defending the land from the proposed Alton Gas project, a contentious plan to create large underground caverns to store natural gas.

On Monday, the group approached Penobsquis, where another fight over water is brewing. The Higgs government recently announced it was lifting, without consulting First Nations leaders, the moratorium on shale gas development in the Sussex area.

Their journey will take the walkers to Nibezun, a sacred ground of the Penobscot people along the Penobscot River in central Maine, where the Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island Gathering.

Mi'kmaq grandmother Dorene Bernard is walking water from Nova Scotia to Maine on a ceremonial journey to pray for water. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The group walks about 20 to 25 kilometres on most days.

The walkers carry with them a copper pail, which holds water from several sources, including the Shubenacadie River, Alliston Aquifer, Salish Sea and Bay of Fundy as well as water from other parts of the world, including New Zealand, Guatemala and Peru.

Water from all these places were given to Bernard, who is a water keeper, to be prayed for.

"This is a ceremony. A 53-day ceremony where we're going to walk with the water, to pray for the water and pray for Mother Earth," Bernard said. 

Bernard said that other people are free to join the group in walking for as long as they like. Some have come along for a few kilometres, some for a few days. She said as people come and join them on their journey, they bring more water to add to the pale for prayers.

The group of water walkers started the journey in Nova Scotia on May 20 and will end it in Maine on July 11. (Dorene Bernard/submitted)

"Sometimes they bring water from home that needs prayers, you know, that's polluted," Bernard said. "And other times they bring water that's pure, so pure they can drink."

The ceremony is part of a four-year commitment the Wabanakiyik (People of the Dawn) have made as part of the Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island Gathering, which aims to heal past wounds "between the Native peoples and the newcomers" and  "those carried by Mother Earth," the gathering's website stated.

Wabanaki Water Walkers pose on the side of the road during their journey. (Dorene Bernard/Submitted)

"These 16 years, these ceremonies will be taking place for the healing of Mother Earth, for the healing of the water and for all mankind, all the animals, the swimmers, the flyers, all that rely on Mother Earth and our water to live," Bernard said.

"The message I would like people to get from the water walk is that water is sacred. Water is life. Nothing on Earth can live without water. We all need clean water to live.

"[Saturday] was World Ocean Day. The whale washed up on the Shubenacadie River, that was a big message to me to continue to do what we're doing."

The whale Bernard spoke of was a minke whale that died along the river shore near Clifton, N.S. on Sunday.

Justine Kerr, a Digby, N.S., resident by way of Scotland, joined the walk. She said it's been nice to unplug from technology and appreciate the land more.

Mike Nadjiwon, left, says, 'The water is definitely a factor, but our relationship with the land and the water is what really needs to be looked at in a much different way.' (CBC)

"It's a natural experience, but we live in a really insane world," Kerr said. "And when all these cars are whizzing past us, it just shows me how unnatural most of the populous is living and how disconnected we are with our hearts and the pulse of the land."

Kerr, a painter by profession, said she is grateful for the opportunity to tale part in the ceremony.

Mike Nadjiwon came from Sudbury, Ont., with his eagle staff to support Bernard on her water walk.

"Well, I've always taken part in ceremony and this is basically what we're doing is in ceremony today," Ndajiwon said. "I worked with the grandmother that started these water walks in 2003, and so the Mi'kmaw women, the grandmother here, needed some assistance so I came over to help."

Nadjiwon said he believes that we need to reexamine our relationship with the water and land .

Reflecting on the journey so far, Bernard said: "It's challenging at some times, it's beautiful, it's teaching us a lot about our abilities and it's bringing us together."


Logan Perley is a Wolastoqi journalist from Tobique First Nation and a reporter at CBC New Brunswick. You can email him at or follow him on Twitter @LoganPerley.

With files from Kate Letterick