Thunder Bay students learn about clean water from new Indigenous children's book

“One day an ounce of water will cost as much as an ounce of gold,” is what an Elder told Josephine Mandamin almost 20 years ago. This lead Madamin to dedicate 14 years of her life to running and participating in water walks to raise awareness about the importance of clean water.

Josephine Mandamin, who inspired book, has done more water walks "than she can count"

Joanne Robertson reads her new book about Josephine Mandamin to a class in Thunder Bay. They want to inspire kids to protect clean water. (Jackie McKay )

"One day an ounce of water will cost as much as an ounce of gold," is what an Elder told Josephine Mandamin almost 20 years ago.

This lead Madamin to dedicate 14 years of her life to running and participating in water walks to raise awareness about the importance of clean water.

Now there's a children's book inspired by Mandamin's journeys.The Water Walker was written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson after meeting Mandamin in 2011 when she was the coordinator for the four directions walk.

Robertson and Mandamin read the book to a class of Grade 2 and 3 students at Nor'Wester View Public School in Thunder Bay on Thursday.

They want to talk to children about the importance of clean water and inspire them to take action themselves.

"Hopefully a little seed will stick in their head and they'll start talking to their parents about it and being more conscious of water," said Robertson. 

Mandamin has done more walks than she is able to count and has even had a knee replacement from all her walking. However, she was recently diagnosed with parkinson's disease preventing her from doing anymore.

"My thought when I wrote the book was that because she won't be walking anymore we still want to get her message out there," said Robertson.

The book starts where Robertson and Mandamin met at the four directions walk. Mandamin led four groups, each one starting at a different ocean and then walking to Lake Superior. The north started in Churchill, Man., south in Gulfport, Miss., West in Aberdeen, Wash., east in Machias, Maine. She flew to all four locations to start the groups on their journeys. All the groups met at Lake Superior after walking for a little over two months.

"Were not there to do a demonstration, it's just a spiritual walk," said Mandamin. "The walk is a ceremony itself."

Mandamin is from Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island and moved to Thunder Bay in the '70s. Her first walk in 2003 was around Lake Superior. Every walk she carries an egelstaff and a bucket of water. From the time she picks up the bucket she doesn't stop walking until the end of the day.

"Can't stop it [walking] because the river flows and the water has to keep flowing," said Mandamin.

The image of Mandamin with her egelstaff and bucket is the cover of the book.

Josephine Mandamin is the subject of a new Indigenous children's book. She has spent the last 14 years doing water walks to raise the awareness about the importance of clean water. (Jackie McKay)
 

Mandamin completed her last walk in July starting in Duluth, Minn., and ending in Matane, Que. It took three month and Mandamin drove a van alongside the walkers for most of the trip due to her diagnosis.

"I'm hoping that they're going to see how precious water is," said  Andrea Petersen, teacher at Nor'Wester View Public School. Robertson also spoke to the kids about the writing process and how she made the book.

After the four directions walk Robertson started drawing sketches of it and decided to turn it into a book after seeing a notice for an Indigenous writers competition.

"Our stories are so important, like Josephine's story, this is her last walk but it can't stop here we all have a responsibility to water," said Robertson. "It's important that her story lives on and her message."