Sheshegwaning, Gore Bay students follow footsteps of Biidasige

Under sunny, blue skies, the Sheshegwaning and Gore Bay students are cresting the snow dunes in Providence Bay and following their leader out to receive traditional Indigenous teachings on topics such as the sanctity of water.

PROVIDENCE BAY—Students from Charles C. McLean Public School in Gore Bay and St. Joseph’s Anishinabek School in Sheshegwaning have been meeting up throughout this winter to gain first-hand knowledge of Indigenous cultural teachings through Walking Waters, a program through 4elements Living Arts.

“There is an important tradition of water walkers that work to protect the water. We are teaching children about traditions and ceremonies such as respecting the water and how important it is. We hope they will be able to pass it on to the next generation,” said Lauren Satok, co-ordinator of the Walking Waters project.

This year, students in Grades 4 to 8 in Sheshegwaning and the Grade 5/6 class from C.C. McLean have been participating in the workshops. This is the fourth outing for the group. They have previously done walks in Gore Bay, Sheshegwaning and Barrie Island.

“We’re connecting their hearts to the water. The kids are also journaling and drawing pictures and filming themselves taking part in these activities,” said Ms. Satok, adding that she hopes to circulate a petition to rename towns across Manitoulin Island to their original Anishinaabe names.

Today, the students arrived suited up in their snowshoes and walked towards the Providence Bay beach where a fire keeper had set up a blaze between a few cedar trees. They smudged, offered semaa (tobacco) to the fire and reflected on why they were there. Then they headed south over the snow dunes and onto the frozen waters of Lake Huron. 

Elder Verna Hardwick said they were hoping to have Autumn Peltier attend one of their sessions, as the niece of recently-passed water walker Josephine Mandamin. The 14-year-old from Manitoulin Island has presented on the importance of water in a number of settings, including to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and at the United Nations.

“We’ve been snowshoeing since the beginning of these and the kids keep track of the animal tracks they see, learn to identify trees, identify the shoreline and find otter holes,” Ms. Hardwick said.

The students are arriving, snowshoes in hand, to the Providence Bay Centennial Hall. After a quick snack break, they will head out on their adventure to learn more about traditional Indigenous teachings. photos by Warren Schlote

Ms. Satok said 4elements was looking for a creative way to develop an understanding of cultural teachings in children when they asked her to co-ordinate the project.

“I’ve been running programs on the Island for 15 years. 4elements is about connecting with the land and making art,” she said, adding that she is an artist herself.

“We need to connect with the traditions of the people that were here far before settlers,” said Ms. Satok.

Ms. Hardwick agreed, saying important teachings are missing from many people in the modern age.

“A lot of times, people think water just comes from a bottle, or from a tap,” she said, emphasizing the need to understand the full impact of human activity on the planet.

Following the walk and water teachings, the students warmed up over hot chocolate before heading back to their respective schools.

This project is funded by the Ontario Arts Council and the Ontario Sport and Recreation Communities Fund. The final Walking Waters session was in Sheshegwaning on March 22. 

For more information on the programs 4elements provides, visit its website at 4elementsLivingArts.org.