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Chanie Wenjack School

First Peoples House of Learning in the moonlight and Otonabee river
for Indigenous Studies

Chanie Wenjack School

Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies

Challenge the Way You Think. Think Indigenous. Think Trent.


Josephine-ba and Shirley Williams carrying the copper pail of water.

Nibi Emosaawdamajig, (Those who walk for the Water), the Sacred Water Circle and the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies are mourning the passing of the great woman who led us in our knowledge of the water, how to be in relationship with the water, to care for and protect the water, that water is not a commodity, she is our life. Water is life. 

In spite of her personal challenges and physical limitations, Josephine-ba persevered in her dedication to teach us and to give us and to empower us to work together for the water here at Trent, in Peterborough and with the Indigenous leadership of Elder, Shirley Williams and Lead Water Walker, Liz Osawamick and local Indigenous leader, Dorothy Taylor, who leads the Sacred Water Circle, we learned together to enjoy the love we created together, for one another and especially, for the water. 

​For the past 10 water walks Josephine-ba accompanied the walks here in the Kawarthas, teaching us how to support the walkers, how the water, once picked up in its copper pail, never stops, but like the water in the river, flows on.  At each of the 4 stops for the water blessings, she taught us how to 'touch-down' using the tobacco to interrupt the flow of the water and to allow it to stay still for the brief time while the blessing or the break took place.

Join us this year for the 10th Annual Kawartha Lakes Water Walk, we will be walking in honour of Josephine-ba and of course, 'we do it for the water'.  ​

Following, is the news release from the  ANISHINABEK NATION HEAD OFFICE (February 22, 2019)— The Anishinabek Nation mourns the passing of our Grandmother, our Water Commissioner, our kind and gentle Water Protector, Biidaasige – Josephine Mandamin. 

“It is a very sad day. We have lost a great advocate, teacher, and role model. She will be so deeply missed by all and will be fondly remembered for all of what she did to protect the water. Our prayers are with Josephine as she begins her journey home into the Spirit World and back to her ancestors,” expressed Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare. “Our thoughts of comfort are with Josephine’s family and community as they prepare for her journey.”

Josephine Mandamin, originally from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, and affectionately called Grandmother Water Walker or Grandmother Josephine, dedicated her life to protecting the water and giving it a voice. She made it her life’s mission to raise consciousness about the fragility of water and emphasize that water is precious, sacred, and one of the basic elements required for all life to exist. Water is life.

“Through all of the years of Josephine’s determination and dedication to raise awareness through her legendary Great Lakes Water Walks, it is my hope that the world hears her message – that water is life!” stated Grand Council Chief Hare. “Our world is a better place because of Josephine’s efforts and those of us who will continue her work to protect our life-giving Nibi, not only to honour her legacy, but to ensure water, the world over, is protected. What a remarkable Anishinaabkwe we have had the absolute pleasure of knowing and learning from.”

Grandmother Josephine founded Mother Earth Water Walks – an initiative that brings awareness to the risks and threats to the health and sustainability of our waterways. Through that initiative, she has walked the shorelines of the five Great Lakes as well as in all four directions of Turtle Island – bringing water from all oceans together. She has walked the equivalent of half of the earth’s circumference while building awareness about pollution, laws, fracking, and the selling of water. 

As part of her advocacy role, she conducted community ceremonies where she would unite communities with water and empower them to start their own water walks to bring awareness to local lakes and watersheds. Grandmother Josephine has touched the lives of many and inspired a whole new generation of water walkers and warriors. 

In her capacity as the Chief Commissioner of the Anishinabek Nation Women’s Water Commission, she was a predominant contributor and leader of the Great Lakes Guardians’ Council, established under theGreat Lakes Protection Act. She was also previously on the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada in 2006.

She was also honoured with a Anishinabek Nation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation in 2016 for Excellence in Conservation for Water Walks, and received distinctions and honours from the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Sean Atleo, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Ontario Native Women’s Association and from the Mayor of Duluth Minnesota.

For more than 50 years, Trent has incorporated traditional teachings and perspectives into its curricular and extra-curricular programming. In fact, Trent’s groundbreaking leadership in Indigenous Studies dates back to our beginnings, when we became the first university in Canada, and only the second in North America, to establish an academic department dedicated to the study of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous knowledges. It’s just one of the ways we think differently, and inspire our students to do the same. 

Our Leadership in Indigenous Studies: An Interactive Timeline

We invite you to explore our history of leadership, and join our extraordinary community of scholars to continue this legacy and make a difference in our world.