MSS groups lead water walk across Island this Saturday

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M’CHIGEENG—Students at Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) are all set to take part in the school’s biggest-ever water walk this coming Saturday, one that will follow a roughly 120-kilometre route that spans from Misery Bay to Wiikwemkoong, to raise awareness and funds in support of clean water initiatives worldwide.

“I’m hoping we will see lots of people all over the Island walk with us,” said Yana Bauer, MSS teacher and a supervisor of the school’s Students Helping All ‘Round Everywhere (SHARE)/Go Green Committee. That committee is organizing the walk.

“Youth are not apathetic to what’s going on in the world. They are passionate, they want to go big and they want to see change,” she said.

As of last week, roughly 40 students had signed up for the walk. The public is invited to join in on the event and share their support for the increasing threats to safe, clean drinking water worldwide.

MSS has hosted water walks sporadically in previous years, but they have been mostly symbolic gestures around the track on the school grounds. This year marks a spectacular departure from the past. It was originally planned to be on the same scale as other years, but some students had discussions with other school groups to try to incorporate more people into the walk. Members of the school’s CrossFit group were the ones to launch the water walk into this new domain.

“April (Torkopoulos, a student helping to organize the walk) came back and said, ‘I don’t know if they’re serious, but the CrossFit group wants to walk the whole Island’,” recalled Ms. Bauer. “The students really like the epic nature of this undertaking.”

The planning process soon began. After considerable deliberation, the final plan culminated in a 120-kilometre route from Misery Bay to Wiikwemkoong. However, the walkers will be divided into two groups that start at one end and walk toward MSS. 

“We were looking at doing a full 30-hour walk across the whole Island, but the police advised us against it for safety reasons,” said Ms. Bauer.

At the bright and early hour of 6 am on Saturday morning, the enrolled students and supporting community members will embark on the 79,000-step journey toward the school. There will be safety vehicles pacing the students with plenty of drinking water in reusable containers as well as several stops along the route with community members who have opened their homes as rest stops. 

Noojmowin Teg Health Centre has offered reusable water bottles for the walkers and Ms. Bauer estimates the trip will take about 12-and-a-half hours.

The participating students are raising money for the walk, with proceeds going to support WE Walk For Water. MSS is affiliated with WE Charity, the organization founded by Toronto-area brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger, and as part of the affiliation the school runs events throughout the year in support of WE. 

The WE Walk For Water project brings sustainable wells to communities in developing countries. Every $25 means one person will have clean water for their whole life. One thousand dollars will create a well that can sustain a village.

Water walkers are significant in Anishinaabe traditions, especially the late Biidaasige Josephine Mandamin who founded Mother Earth Water Walks in 2003. That organization raises awareness and advocates for the protection of fresh water. It is rooted in the assertion that water is life.

“The Three Fires Confederacy has also gotten involved and offered us their support. Water walking is a long-standing tradition in First Nation communities and we wanted to honour that. They’ve offered their support and instruction to us,” said Ms. Bauer.

Ms. Bauer and a couple of students met with water walkers in Wiikwemkoong who helped to explain some of the traditions and offer their support in getting the event underway. They also spread awareness of the event among those who have supported their own walks in the past and Ms. Bauer said she hoped that would boost attendance.

“The water walkers offered us some cloth for tobacco ties, and we were able to give them a tobacco plant that we had grown here at the school. It was a really beautiful exchange,” said Ms. Bauer.

A component of water walks is collecting water from the many waterways along the route. Ms. Bauer said that in an effort to expand its reach into as many waterways as possible, students living in all corners of the Island were asked to bring in water from a natural source close to their home. 

All the water will be collected in a copper container—a material significant for its healing and cleansing properties in Anishinaabe customs—that was donated by a woman from Honora Bay. A student also donated their copper water bottle for the initiative. The collected water will be mixed with the waters of West Bay in a ceremony at the end of the walk. 

“We want this to be an act of solidarity because everyone is affected by water issues,” said Ms. Bauer.

Following the walk, there will be a community feast at the high school. 

Anyone interested in supporting the initiative through donations or by walking in one of the groups is asked to access the event’s Facebook page for all the above details. It can be accessed at bit.ly/H2OWalk. The link is case-sensitive.