MACHIASPORT, Maine — Josephine Mandamin, an Ojibway Indian from Thunder Bay, Ontario, stooped under the weight of the water in the copper bucket she carried from the sea, across the rocks and a field, to the roadway. Beside her was her sister Melvina Mandamin and her grandson Josh Metansinine, who carried a staff adorned with an eagle’s head.
Walking behind them, a band of flowing skirts, tribal headdresses and leather fringe, were Indians from Passamaquoddy, Cherokee, Blackfeet, Penobscot, Micmac and other Maine and Canadian tribes. Among them was Joan Dana of Indian Township, who at age 74 led five generations of her family. They walked from Picture Rock, an ancient petroglyph site where they gathered the water from the Atlantic Ocean, on through Machiasport, every so often switching water carriers and staff bearers.
This was the Eastern Direction of the Mother Earth Water Walk that will culminate at Lake Superior in Wisconsin in June. The walk symbolizes the need to care for water to ensure clean water for future generations. Women, many of them tribal elders from the four directions of North America, are carrying water in identical copper buckets from the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and Hudson Bay. In mid-June, the waters will be reunited as the walkers reach Lake Superior.
As the bucket was dipped into the Atlantic Ocean around 4 a.m. Saturday, Donald Soctomah of Indian Township said, an eagle flew overhead and a seal watched from the sea.
“This is why we walk,” he said. “It is for them — the creatures — too.”
Soctomah said, “This is the very essence of who we are as native people and human beings. Without clean water, we have nothing.”
From the petroglyphs, the walkers carried the water to Machias where 100 people had gathered for a ceremony at Bad Little Falls to officially kick off the Eastern Direction of the walk. As they walked, they sang.
“Every step is a prayer,” Soctomah explained.
Three days earlier, Soctomah and other Passamaquoddy Indians had built a sweat lodge on the sacred petroglyph site to allow natives to purify themselves before the walk.
After lunch and rest, provided by the Beehive Collective of artists at the historic Grange in Machias, they headed through Whitneyville, Jonesboro, Harrington and on into Milbridge, where the group took shelter Saturday night. On Sunday they continued along Route 1 toward Ellsworth, making for Bangor. From there they will walk along Route 2 to Skowhegan then make their way through western Maine to cross the border into Canada at Coburn Gore by the middle of next week. There can be anywhere from two to about 15 walkers in the group at any given time.
Every time the walkers passed water on the side of the road, a spiritual offering of tobacco was made, and as they walked, they sang songs of praise and hope. Native women are the carriers and protectors of water so the pail cannot be carried by a man. An Ojibway man asked Faye Bauman of Machias, a Blackfeet woman, how it felt to carry the pail.
“Powerful,” she answered.
East Coast organizer Madeline Hjunter of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, said she was holding back and letting the Passamaquoddy tribal members take the lead on the first leg of their journey. Soctomah said he would join the walkers off and on along the way.
Maureen Robichaud and Wendy Langille, non-natives, drove from Hampton, New Brunswick, to Machias to experience the beginning of the walk.
“It is really true that we don’t appreciate water as we should,” Robichaud said.
The women held a drumming circle at their Canadian home to help raise money for the walkers.
“This is so important, we just wanted to be here to send them off,” she said.
“Whatever we do to the water will impact the children of future generations,” Hjunter said. “People need to start looking at how we live and the importance of clean water.”
The Mother Earth Water Walk began in 2003, according to the project’s website, as “a prayer for the water, for Mother Earth, for the animals, the birds, the insects, the trees and for us, all two leggeds. Together the walks were one prayer for life.” This is the first year that water will be carried from the four corners of North America, and non-natives are encouraged to join the walkers.
The Western and Southern legs of the walk have already begun, although Soctomah said the Southern contingent was forced to stop for a while because of tornadoes in their path.
Hjunter said people along Routes 1 and 2 in Maine can assist the walkers by placing signs along the way asking trucks and other traffic to slow down and take care when near the walkers.
Kehben Grier of the Beehive Collective is still seeking rest stops for the walkers along Routes 1 and 2 in Maine. Those who want to open their doors to the walkers or provide a place to rest may contact her at 669-4117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.