By Mike Anderson
Despite the threat of an afternoon thunderstorm, three canoes set off from Virginia Beach Marina on June 7 to complete a two-week journey around Lake Simcoe.
The six paddlers are part of the first-ever Shining Water Paddle trip organized by the Chippewas of Georgina Island. Shining Waters or Zhooniyaang-zaaga`igan is the Anishinaabe name for Lake Simcoe.
The paddlers will camp at various spots along the Lake and offer prayers and conduct traditional tobacco ceremonies to help heal the waters, as well as the waters that flow within us.
Elder Shelley Charles conducted a smudging ceremony and sang the Prophecy song for the paddlers. And, when they left the shore, she offered a prayer, which set the tone for their spiritual journey.
Vicky Wolske, who is leading the trip and conducting the traditional ceremonies, says the idea for the paddle came to her in a dream.
“I’m honouring that dream and I’m having my family join this paddle. We’re going to head west and we plan to go right around Lake Simcoe. We’re following the direction that we do in our traditional circles,” said Wolske, who is also a Midew or medicine woman.
“We’re offering gifts, prayers and songs to help maintain the purity of the water and also to raise awareness — to let everybody know what needs to be done, that we need to pay attention and take care of the waters, and not only specifically the Lake waters, we all carry waters inside our own bodies.”
She also stressed that the trip had a universal message for all peoples.
“The waters is the one thing that unites us all over the world. So this journey is inclusive. The traditional ceremonies and everything that we’re doing is Anishinaabe. But we didn’t want to just say that it’s just for the Anishinaabe people. Everybody needs to pay attention that water is life and how important it is.”
Kelsey Trivett, who is also taking part in the paddle, agrees.
“It’s important to raise awareness about access to clean water and the safety of water. It’s all of our responsibility to care for that water,” she said.
“If we don’t have access to clean water, we won’t survive. And there’s so many things globally that are impacting our water and the safety of our water and access to clean water. I’m hoping that the paddle raises that awareness and that it’s all of our responsibility to take care of it.”
Trivett, who’s an Ojibwe language and culture teacher at the Waabgon Gamig school on Georgina Island, wants to see the federal government take action on the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), including making clean, safe drinking water available to all First Nations — the Chippewas of Georgina Island have been on a boil water advisory for the past five years.
“There have been actions, but there hasn’t been the actions set out by Indigenous communities and the TRC, it would be nice to see access to clean water and more communities coming off boil water advisories,” she said.
While she acknowledges the two-week canoe trip is going to test her endurance, Trivett is grateful for all the support she’s received from her family and friends, including her seven-year-old son Carver, who helped her train for the paddle.
“It’s a big trip. But I’ve got my family and community members supporting us. And I think our ancestors will be there with us supporting us.”
“I think it’s a great idea to raise awareness for the Lake, the healing of the Lake,” said Chief Donna Big Canoe, who along with Band Council members and York-Simcoe MP Scot Davidson came to show their support for the paddle.
“These ladies have done a tremendous job in organizing this event and bringing prayers to help with the healing of the Lake. It’s so much needed at this time, right now, especially with the concerns we have with Lake Simcoe.”
“We need to protect the water and heal it. We need to start. Everyone needs to start. That’s the awareness. It’s proven our traditional ways work. You can see that it changes when the water has been prayed for.”
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