Joanne Robertson, Award-Winning Author of ‘The Water Walker,’ joined us in the ONNtv Studio with Timothy Murphy to discuss the inspiration behind her work – the water crisis amongst First Nations communities in Canada.
Robertson, who was adopted and raised by a white family in Southern Ontario, came into contact with her Anishnaabe roots in her twenties. Gradually, she has becoming more in touch with her Indigenous culture. Part of this came from taking Graphic Design and Native Arts and Culture at Algoma University.
This led her to getting involved with the Empty Glass for Water Campaign, an awareness initiative for educating people on the water crisis amongst First Nations and the need for government intervention. “There are First Nations children who have never drank fresh water or tap water in their lives. There are Indigenous communities that have been on a boil water advisory for the past twenty-three years,” Robertson told Murphy in an ONNpoint segment.
Statistics show that two thirds (400 out of 618) of First Nations communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory between 2004 and 2014.
“I kept putting tobacco down and asking for people who could help me learn about water and the water crisis in our communities, and the next semester, Josephine (Manadamin) walked into my class,” Robertson explained.
Josephine Manadamin, or Nokomis (the Anishnaabe word for grandmother), a member of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge has walked over 25,000 kilometres for water. Beginning in 2003 after Manadamin became concerned over the pollution happening to the lakes and rivers across Turtle Island (North America), she walked the shorelines of the give Great Lakes as well as from the four coastlines, completing her walks in 2017 at the age of 74.
This friendship sparked Robertson’s role in the Water Walking, as she then became the coordinator. Throughout this experience, she promised to archive the walk and thus the book The Water Walker was born.
Combining Robertson’s skills in art and graphic design, as well as her passion for Anishnaabe culture, the book ‘The Water Walker’ explores elements of caring for the earth in a way that is presentable to both children and adults which also highlights the strength and role of women in Indigenous cultures.
But beyond the book, Robertson said “We have to look at water like it is alive, not like it is a resource. Everyone cam come up with different ways, but we have to start pressuring our government. It is bigger than what each individual can do. We have to come together.”
The book can be purchased here at Second Story Press, in Sault Ste. Marie at Shabby Motley, or in Garden River at The Family Tree.