June 8th, 2023

Curve Lake First Nation Elder Dorothy Taylor and allies Drew Milligan and Anne Trudell (Sacred Water Circle) follow behind the young people (not pictured) who are carrying the eagle staff and the copper pot at a water walk for Little Lake on May 5, 2023. Students and teachers hold sacred semaa (tobacco) in their left hand during the entire walk. Teachers and students from Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School wear red to honour the Indigenous communities who lost hundreds of women, girls and two-spirit individuals who went missing, or were murdered over the years. Elder Dorothy sings as the walk proceeds to Beavermead Park. (Photo: Lili Paradi, Sacred Water Circle / GreenUP)

Curve Lake First Nation Elder Dorothy Taylor and allies Drew Milligan and Anne Trudell (Sacred Water Circle) follow behind the young people (not pictured) who are carrying the eagle staff and the copper pot at a water walk for Little Lake on May 5, 2023. Students and teachers hold sacred semaa (tobacco) in their left hand during the entire walk. Teachers and students from Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School wear red to honour the Indigenous communities who lost hundreds of women, girls and two-spirit individuals who went missing, or were murdered over the years. Elder Dorothy sings as the walk proceeds to Beavermead Park. (Photo: Lili Paradi, Sacred Water Circle / GreenUP)

By: Lili Paradi, GreenUP/Sacred Water Circle; Taylor Wilkes, Community Member

“How do you take time to honour water?”

For six Peterborough youth, the answer was to organize an opportunity to learn about water from an Anishinaabeg perspective. Here in Michi Saagiig territory, Elder Dorothy Taylor from Curve Lake First Nation and the Sacred Water Circle have offered intercultural learning opportunities about the sacredness of water for years. Their efforts often center youth, taking time to listen to and empower young people’s voices.

Over the winter, students from Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School worked with Michael Mooney, the school district’s Indigenous Education Lead & Learning Consultant to connect with Dorothy Taylor.

The students, including Lilyanna Talbot, Tily Alderson, Thomas Wrigley, Jordynn Barrett, Adelaide Kelly and Lochlyn Konkle represent a social-justice themed youth committee which was designed to engage other students in work that benefits the Peterborough community. The youth, alongside teacher Sarah Ryan, envisioned an event that would introduce teachings from an Elder to their school, and invited Taylor to the school. Eventually what emerged was a plan for a water walk along Little Lake.

On Friday May 5th, seventy students from grades 5-8 came to learn from the experience of walking for the water. The ceremonial walk was planned by youth, led by Taylor, and supported by Sacred Water Circle member Anne Trudell and ally Drew Milligan.

The Sacred Water Circle has a long history of supporting water walks in this territory.

Water walks are an “Anishinaabeg Ceremony from the Midewiwin Tradition that raises awareness about water as a living entity” according to Enji Tibew’esen Nibi Nikwejiwong – the Junction Creek Water Walk in N’Swakamok/Sudbury. Josephine-Baa Mandamin, the Anishiinaabe grandmother from Wiikwemikoong unceeded territory, brought water walk ceremonies to the Great Lakes watershed by circumnavigating them on foot.

Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School student Tily Alderson holds a copper pot filled with water that was taken from Little Lake during a water walk on May 5, 2023. The water was sang to and smudged and prayed over by Curve Lake First Nation Elder Dorothy Taylor assisted by Drew Milligan and Anne Trudell. (Photo: Lili Paradi, Sacred Water Circle / GreenUP)

Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School student Tily Alderson holds a copper pot filled with water that was taken from Little Lake during a water walk on May 5, 2023. The water was sang to and smudged and prayed over by Curve Lake First Nation Elder Dorothy Taylor assisted by Drew Milligan and Anne Trudell. (Photo: Lili Paradi, Sacred Water Circle / GreenUP)

Josephine-Baa also led several Kawartha Lakes Water Walks with Elder Shirley Williams and Liz Osawamik who are dear friends of Josephine’s and Nogojiiwanong community members. Williams and Osawamik now hold knowledge of the water walk ceremony protocol with local water walking awareness group Nibi Emosaawdamajig or Those Who Walk with the Water. With support from the Sacred Water Circle, they continue to bring the community together for public water walks in this territory, such as the recent Mother’s Day Walk for Lovesick Lake.

Participating in a public Water Walk ceremony not only heals the water, but it is a practice for allowing people of all knowledge and faith backgrounds to invite Indigenous ways of knowing to evolve their relationships with water.

People of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to join a water walk and have a place in the ceremony. Young people have a place in community discussions and plans around how the environment is treated, just as they can have a place in a water walk.

At the Little Lake Water Walk, the young social justice group members spoke on behalf of the teachings that Elder Dorothy offered, lessons that braided Indigenous and Western science.

“We are learning about water in science class. Learning about water from Indigenous [science] is such a beautiful thing. Everything is so new from this Indigenous perspective,” Alderson said. “I learned that water is life. Water is such an important part of our lives, that we need to represent it, appreciate it, and thank it.”

Students, staff, and participants stop at Beavermead beach to gift the sacred semaa (untreated tobacco) to Little Lake on May 5, 2023. Semaa is meant to absorb your prayers and thoughts, carrying them where they end up. (Photo: Lili Paradi, Sacred Water Circle / GreenUP)

Students, staff, and participants stop at Beavermead beach to gift the sacred semaa (untreated tobacco) to Little Lake on May 5, 2023. Semaa is meant to absorb your prayers and thoughts, carrying them where they end up. (Photo: Lili Paradi, Sacred Water Circle / GreenUP)

“It’s kind of hard to watch all of this happen. I know people say the future is in us, but it’s hard to think of things that we can do to save the planet, and this is just the start,” Alderson continued.

“[It is time] to correct our mistakes,” Talbot added.

Together, the students voiced concern for the future of water, but also hope. They spoke to the impact and responsibility of all generations to take part in understanding our local water from different perspectives. Elder Taylor reflected on this after the water walk, where students and teachers alike said ‘Miigwetch Nibi’, or ‘Thank-you water’ to Little Lake.

“The time has come where we have to stop treating water as a commodity. It’s a lifeforce. It belongs in our rivers, lakes and creeks. However, we use it as a dumping ground for our sewage,” said Taylor. “And we can no longer kneel at these bodies of water and put it to our lips, even though we are surrounded by it. My grandmother and parents could do that, but for my grandchildren and children the water is poisonous,” she said.

“We’ve forgotten how important it is, and we are living in an era where we do treat it like garbage. Young people are waking up and understanding this more than ever before. They will remember these teachings and protect water for many generations to come.”

It is our collective responsibility to protect nibi. When older generations prioritize catalyzing youth action, communities strengthen. This intergenerational work makes living in and protecting our beloved environment in Nogojiwanong/Peterborough so unique.

Elder Dorothy Taylor of Curve Lake First Nation shared teachings with students and staff from Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School at a water walk at Little Lake on May 5, 2023. (Photo: Lili Paradi, Sacred Water Circle / GreenUP)

Elder Dorothy Taylor of Curve Lake First Nation shared teachings with students and staff from Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School at a water walk at Little Lake on May 5, 2023. (Photo: Lili Paradi, Sacred Water Circle / GreenUP)