Several years ago Grandmother Josephine Mandamin-baa (the baa designates that she has passed away and alters the name slightly so that she doesn’t get distracted from her new journey) began walking about the Great Lakes. Over the years she circled them all, she walked the length of the St. Lawrence Seaway and then walked it again in the opposite direction. Always carrying a copper pot of water and always with supporters. Grandmother did not walk alone, on these walks helpers would leapfrog with her each person taking a turn while others went ahead by support vehicle. The water kept moving. Whenever the water carrier crossed the waters, a stream or river, the person who carried the eagle staff would offer tobacco. These walks brought attention to the condition of the waters and galvanized people who felt helpless in the face of government inaction and corporate greed.

Josephine Mandamin-baa speaking at an event. I chose this image because she’s wearing the skirt I gave her. The print is a kokapeli pattern and I thought that his mischieviousness would appeal to her. I’m told that it did and the skirt became a favourite. You can read more about her by clicking the image

The summer before she passed, Grandmother asked for sunrise ceremonies to be done for the waters all around the Great Lakes and I agreed to arrange for ceremonies in my community. Her vision was for ceremony to be done on the same days around the lakes, what transpired was much bigger. Every time she asked for a sunrise ceremony groups across Canada and the US would gather at whatever water was in their community and together we would pray, offering ceremony and tobacco to the waters.

Inspired by Grandmother, water walkers have taken up the task of walking the lakes and rivers of their communities and that is how I found myself, along with some members of our drum group, involved in a water walk organized by a local high school in this morning. Typically these walks take place along water, so you’ll see them in parks or along roadways. We didn’t walk beside water, but we did sing and I thought about the unseen waters beneath our feet.

As we sang in these suburban streets I thought about the people in those houses listening to our songs. I thought about the trees who draw water up from deep in the ground to create shade that was much appreciated on this sun-baked walk. I thought about the rocks crushed to make sidewalks, and the ancient dinosaurs who form asphalt. I thought about the grasses and flowers and I wondered if all these relatives remembered older songs.

aerial view of city during daytime

I’ve thought about this before while drumming beneath cedar and pine outside the Friendship Center or with a class outside a local university. I’ve looked at trees that are older than our country and wondered if they remembered songs, some that we know and many that are lost and if hearing us brings them comfort. But I hadn’t thought about that in the city and I wondered what these younger relatives thought, if they had echoes of those older songs in their DNA, if it awakened something in them.

Because that’s all ceremony is isn’t it, it’s a reminder of relationship. It’s a returning to that covenant that was made between our ancestors that they would take care of us and that we would live in good relationship with them and oh we have failed in that haven’t we. We have failed. We have taken our relatives and conformed them to our use, grinding the bones of rock and stone to cover what grows. Taking those of ancient rest and burning them for fuel or paving paradise.  So bringing that ceremony to these relatives, it felt good.

Years ago I ran a daycamp for a church I belonged to and we went to Dundurn Castle in Hamilton for a daytrip. Although we didn’t do it, one of the planned activities was to mark around the castle and make noise. A Jericho Walk is an activity taken from the battle of Jericho in the book of Joshua. God commanded Joshua to march around the city of Jericho several times and then on the last one they would blow their horns and the walls would fall and the city would be theirs. Religions groups have been doing these things for years, marching around things or through their neighbourhoods to pray for their community and claim it for God.

Battle of Jericho, I found it on several Christian websites but it isn’t attributed

I thought about that too. About how different these two kinds of walks are.

Because we weren’t claiming the city or the waters for anyone or anything. The waters belong to themselves. They have their own relationhip with the creator and we have a relationship with them. Water walks are not about imposing relationship, they are about restoring it. There is a humility in water walking because you know how badly you have failed your relatives, human and otherwise, and are taking literal steps to reconcile and build repair. And there are the relationships that begin and take shape at these walks, ideas for other things we can do to protect that which gives us life.

Water is life. Water is life.

So I’ll challenge you with that. To think about the waters that surround you, the waters that pass unseen beneath your feet. Beneath your wheels as you travel this summer. The waters where you will kayak and swim and where babies will splash for the first time. The waters you turn into freezies and slushies, or use to soothe sunburns or water gardens and baskets. Pause for a moment when you drive past water and think about the journey it is taking that is separate from yours. Take a moment to offer it gratitude for doing it’s work even while we fail to do ours. For taking all our foolishness downstream where other relatives can clean it. And then resolve to be less foolish.


Hey everyone,

We are getting close to launch date, just under four months, which means it is time for me to create a launch team.  Think about the books you have purchased over the last year. Chances are it was because somebody recommended it to you.

I want you to recommend my book.

What does that mean? That means I need a group of people who will champion the book in their communities. We are all organized somewhere, and even if you don’t think of yourself as an organizer you can begin wherever you are.  Think about your workplace, your faith community, or your union. Maybe that book club your aunt belongs to. Do you belong to or work at a place that does land acknowledgements? That gives you a great place to begin the conversation.

In exchange for agreeing to help out you’ll get an advance copy of the book for free. Yes you will. Advance copies ship out on August 30 so it will be free AND you’ll have the book about 3 weeks before anyone else does. I’ll send you a list of things you can do in the days and weeks leading up to release day (September 27!!!) that are mostly online, like posting screenshots and reviews. I’ll give you graphics you can use.

I’m not asking you to organize an event.


If you wanted to. Well, the publisher has a form for that and if I can get there I will. Let me know if you want the form.

If you would like to be on the launch team respond to this email and let me know:

  • The city and state or province where you live
  • Your social media links
  • What kind of community or social group you are a member of (ie. church, soccer team, etc)

I’ll also need a mailing address to pass on to the publisher!

It’s been a long journey getting to this day.

Thanks for being part of it.

Water walks and city streets

Reflections on drumming in the city