M’CHIGEENG – After a 12 and a half hour, 60-kilometre walk, Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) students, staff and members of the community gathered at the school late Saturday afternoon for a feast. After the long day, one student seemed to sum up the feeling of everyone who took part as to whether it had been successful and how important the walk was.
“Yes, I would do it again to raise awareness on the importance of water,” affirmed Cindy Middleton. She noted that the day “was fun.”
The symbolic walk was held to promote respect for water and care for earth.
The Manitoulin WE Water Walk was organized by Manitoulin Secondary School’s Share/Go Green Committee. SHARE stands for Students Helping All ‘Round Everywhere and the Water Walk is the latest of many youth-led initiatives.
“Students wanted to raise awareness about the importance of protecting water and they want to do this in a strong show of solidarity,” said MSS Principal Jamie Mohamed. “Participants have been gathering water from all over Manitoulin Island and will be carrying it with them on their journey. They are also fundraising through pledges with proceeds going to support clean water projects around the world through WE.org.”
Participants started the walk at 6 am from Misery Bay and from Wiikwemkoong. They walked to M’Chigeeng, culminating in a feast at Manitoulin Secondary School at approximately 6:30 pm.
“We are amazed and so proud of them,” stated Patricia Manitowabi, one of the elders (along with Cecilia Pitawanakwat and Carroll Kitchikake members of the Wiky Water Walkers Group) who helped kick off the walk in Wiikwemikoong and at the ceremonies where tobacco and the water that had been carried by several walkers in the two groups were released into the bay in M’Chigeeng.
The students, staff and community members had carried posters with messages like We Love Manitoulin Island Water and We work for Water. Several of the female student walkers carried canisters of water that had been collected from all around Manitoulin Island. Participants had the option of being part of a relay team or solo walkers for the whole route or for part of the route.
The two groups met for a special ceremony at the bay in M’Chigeeng at the conclusion of the day. It was there that Wiikwemkoong elder Patricia Manitowabi offered tobacco on the water’s surface nearby.
The walkers took part in the ceremony that included a prayer by elder Caroll Kitchikake and the offering of tobacco in the water of the North Channel by elder Patricia Manitowabi. Two walkers, Jocelyn Kuntsi and Maylen Moffatt poured the collected waters into the bay. A
In addressing the students and community members who took part, “you displayed courage, sacrifice, strength and held each other up during the day,” said MSS teacher Yana Bauer, who also participated in the walk. “You are amazing and have made a lot of difference. Awareness is paramount. If we don’t start to care about water here, we will be like developing countries and water will not be available.”
“We would like to thank you all people that helped out today and had a part in all of this,” said Ms. Bauer.
MSS teacher Chris Theijsmeijer, who also participated in the walk acknowledged the drivers and people who brought food and the elders on hand, the latter to teach everyone about the importance of water.
A special mention was also provided about the businesses, on the east end of the island Loco Beanz in Manitowaning and Oakridges Place in Wiikwemikoong and on the West End G.G.’s Restaurant, Campbell’s Drive-In and Bridal Veil Variety in Kagawong who allowed the participants to take a brief respite on the walk, use their washroom facilities and some even provided high energy snacks for the participants to enjoy during the walk.
“We also want to thank the people of Noojmowin Teg Health Centre for donating water bottles filled with water from around the Island,” said Ms. Bauer. Teacher Mike Zegil noted the Rainbow District School Board had provided the safety vests for all the walkers to wear during the walk.
“A big thank you to all the people along the way who fed or provided water for our group,” said Ms. Bauer.
“You were all amazing and today is a day that you will remember all your lives,” said Mr. Theijsmeijer.
Margaret Stringer, Manitoulin trustee on the RDSB who participated in the walk from Wiikwemikoong, told the Recorder, “I am very proud of the students. These young people were out today, walking for a very important, world-wide cause. They are positively affecting their future and I’m so impressed.”
“While we were walking the 60 kilometres people were continuing to make donations online all day. You need to be so proud of yourselves,” said Ms. Bauer. “The fact is that that it was the students who wanted to do this walk; we offered a lot less difficult options but they wanted to make a real significant statement.”
“Last count over $1,200 had been raised (a goal had been set of $1,000),” said Ms. Bauer at the feast. However, once everything was tabulated from online and pledges were totaled, the walk exceeded $2,176.95 in funds raised—a number which will now be doubled through a corporate contribution. The funds raised will go toward water projects through the Me to We program, towards sustainable water projects worldwide. For every $25 raised it provides clean water for life for a person; there are 800 million people in the world that don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water.