Students learn about connection to water and its importance

Students of Charles C. McLean Public School in Gore Bay and St. Joseph’s Anishinabek School in Sheshegwaning First Nation, along with First Nation elders, spiritual helpers and representatives of 4Elements Living Arts, who all took part in the Walking Waters, Connecting Spirit program pose for a photo at a celebration last Friday.

SHESHEGWANING—Students of Charles C. McLean in Gore Bay and St. Joseph’s Anishinabek School in Sheshegwaning First Nation received a very valuable lesson in how important water is to everything in our lives through the Walking Waters, Connecting Spirit program hosted by 4elements Living Arts and First Nation elders and spiritual helpers over the past five months. 

“We think that the Walking Waters program is a great learning opportunity. We had lots of new experiences,” said C.C. McLean student Jack Young. “Seeing the otter hole made us wonder how the otter dug it. We thought smudging was cool and we enjoyed it because it was a new experience. I hope that other kids will get the same experiences and opportunities that we had. Thank you, miigwetch.”
“Other people and kids should be part of this, it is fun and we got to learn about First Nation culture as well,” agreed his fellow C.C. McLean student Landon Seifried. 

A student from St. Joseph’s said one of the best parts of the program was making new friends and that they enjoyed the program and learning about the importance of water and World Water Day.

“Miigwetch, it is an honour to share this program with students; to go ahead in the future and the friendships that have been made,” said Shelba Deer, a First Nations spiritual helper. “It is important to have programs like this where all of us, Anishinabek and non-First Nation children, learn about the importance of water that surrounds and nourishes both us and our respect for water and culture. I’m glad 4elements has put this program on.” 

Lauren Satok of 4elements told the Recorder prior to last Friday’s program, which held in the Sheshegwaning Band Complex, “the program started last November, but it was in discussions with local people during last summer’s Sheshegwaning powwow that we decided to go ahead and look at developing this program.”

The Grade 5/6 class at C. C. McLean and St. Joseph’s School Grade 1 to 8 students took part in the monthly water walks, held in Sheshegwaning, Gore Bay, Providence Bay and Gordon-Barrie Island. 

Ms. Satok pointed out funding was provided by Sports and Tourism Ontario and the idea of the program was  “to bring awareness to students on the West End of Manitoulin on the importance of water and how the water ways connect with everything in our lives; and the culture tools that First Nations people use in bringing this message forward, the respect we need for water and to protect it. Verna Hardwick, a Sheshegwaning elder and water-keeper took a very active and important role in the program. In each location where the water walks took place she led us in a water offering and smudging ceremony together.”

At the first water walk in Gore Bay, the students collected water and brought it back to Sheshewaning as an offering and paying tribute to the sacredness of water. “The whole  idea was to connect the kids spiritually on the importance of water,” said Ms. Satok. 

It was in the art component that 4elements really came in, said Ms. Satok. “We would come back to our warming places after each water walk (usually community centre) to sing and drum water songs. Then all the kids would draw what they had experienced on the walk. The idea was to combine the students that have experience in these type of activities with those that haven’t previously had this type of experience.”

At the World Water Day event Ms. Satok presented a short film “Walking Waters, Connecting Spirit” (she noted that Peter Baumgarten had done most of the videotaping) about the students’ experience and the activities that they had taken part in at the four locations, with fire keeper-elder Lyman Aguonie, Ms. Hardwick, Ms. Deer and Ms. Satok. 

“The point of this whole thing is to bring a deep awareness and culture from the view of First Nations people who have lived on the Island a long time and to share it with others.”

Ms. Hardwick said she is hopeful that this type of program can continue for other students in other Island schools and for adults as well. 

After the opening song the group, arranged in a circle, took tobacco in their left hand (because that is the hand closest to the heart) gave five prayers for water, as water helps plants and trees grow, is needed for people and animals to drink, is used for medicines and teas. 

Ms. Satok said that the students’ drawings of their experiences from the water walks is being collected into a book. “Peter Baumgarten photographed and did most of the video.”

Ms. Satok said the video would be sent to the United Nations website, to join similar events taking place worldwide. She encouraged students to check out the website to see other places where similar ceremonies on the importance of water and protecting it were taking place. 

“One of the beautiful things about Manitoulin Island is that every spot is surrounded by water. That is something extremely special,” the students were told.

Many students from both schools recited messages on how much they enjoyed and learned from the program about the importance of water.

“Looking at the video brought back memories of what we took part in together,” said Ms. Hardwick.  “I’m grateful to have been able to take part with all of you. You were an awesome group.”

Ms. Hardwick told the Recorder prior to the reception last Friday, “I think its great for the students to be made aware of the importance of water. As adults we sometimes take for granted how precious water is. To have our students here in Sheshegwaning and from C.C. McLean in Gore Bay take part in the walks around the water, hiking, snowshoeing, learning how to use the hand drums, shakers and learn songs, along with taking time to pay respect to water has been great. I think all schools should be involved in this type of program.”