Josephine Mandamin, water activist who walked 17,000 km around the Great Lakes, dies at 77

Josephine Mandamin, a well known environmental activist from Wikwemikong First Nation in Ontario, died Friday morning. She was 77.

Funeral held Monday at Wikwemikong First Nation

A photo from the initial Mother Nature Water Walk around Lake Superior in 2003. (Mother Nature Water Walk)

Josephine Mandamin, a well known environmental activist from Wikwemikong First Nation in Ontario, died Friday morning. She was 77. 

​In 2003, concerned about the pollution of rivers and lakes, she co-founded Mother Earth Water Walk. She eventually circumnavigated the shores of all five Great Lakes, a total distance of more than 17,000 km.

"As women, we are carriers of the water. We carry life for the people," Mandamin said in 2016.

"So when we carry that water, we are telling people that we will go any lengths for the water. We'll probably even give our lives for the water if we have to."

Mandamin leaves behind her husband, eight children, 13 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. She was the great-aunt of youth activist Autumn Peltier, who also campaigns for water protection.

Family member Stephanie Peltier wrote on Facebook on Friday that "Biidasige aka Josephine was an amazing teacher that opened that path for us to stand up for our water and Mother Earth."

Madamin served as the head of the Anishinabek Women's Water Commission. She and the Water Walks group received the Lieutenant Governor's Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation in 2016.

The story of Mandamin's water walks was told in a children's book called The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson, published in 2017. 

Josephine Mandamin, centre left, with family members including great-niece Autumn Peltier, far right. (Submitted by Stephanie Peltier)

"We have lost a great advocate, teacher, and role model," said Glen Hare, Grand Chief of the Anishinabek Nation, of which Wikwemikong is a member. 

"She will be so deeply missed by all and will be fondly remembered for all of what she did to protect the water."

In a statement issued Friday, Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations said Mandamin "taught all of us of the fragility of water, and the risks that exist to the health and sustainability of our waterways."

"The important work she started through Mother Earth Water Walk and the Great Lakes Guardians' Council lays the foundation for the future of the Great Lakes Waterways, and for the next seven generations of water walkers and water warriors from across Turtle Island," she said.

"She has touched many of our lives and we are truly grateful to have gained knowledge and wisdom from this inspirational woman and her life's work."

Mandamin's funeral took place Monday in Wikwemikong First Nation.


Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with CBC since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences.