September 19, 2017

The Water Walker

Written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson
Second Story Press
978-1-77260-038-4
36 pp.
Ages 6-9
September 2017

At first glance from title and illustration, The Water Walker may look like an Aboriginal myth or a picture book story.  It is neither.  It is an illustrated piece of creative non-fiction that recounts the efforts of Ojibwe Grandmother (Nokomis) Josephine Mandamin originally of Manitoulin Island and her extraordinary efforts to raise awareness about the need to protect our water (Nibi).  Her story is true, as attested by three knee surgeries and countless pairs of sneakers.

As a child, Nokomis loved Nibi in all its attributes: cold, warm, calm, wild.  Every day she would thank Nibi for its gift of life. "Gichi miigwech, Nibi, for the life you give to every living thing on earth.  I love you.  I respect you." (pg. 9)  But after hearing an elder (ogimaa) speak of water's fate and Nokomis realized that water was being disrespected and wasted, she banded with her sister and women friends (kwewok niichiis) to formulate a plan to protect Nibi.  Four days later, a copper pail full of Nibi in one hand and a Migizi (bald eagle) Staff in her other, Nokomis lead the Mother Earth Water Walkers in their walk around the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.  For the next seven springs, they walked, prayed and sang, offering sacred tobacco (seema) at every Nibi encountered.

From The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson
Though the media picked up on their walking for Nibi, Nokomis knew there was more to do.  The Water Walkers went to the waters surrounding Turtle Island (North America) and sang Nibi's praises and demonstrated their respect.  They went to the Pacific Ocean, an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean.  Still Nokomis prays and sings to Nibi and hopes everyone will help protect Nibi.
From The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson
The Water Walker in the story of a grassroots crusade to demonstrate respect and inform people about the importance and potential destiny for Nibi if we continue as we have.  With water rights being given away for pennies and contamination through industry and pollution, Nibi is at risk.  It is no longer the limitless commodity generations before us believed it to be.  Nokomis Josephine Mandamin did not wait around for disaster to compel her to act.  She let her heart drive her into action.  Now Joanne Robertson, a member of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and founder of the Empty Glass for Water campaign, is sharing that story through her invigorating illustrations, bold in line and colour.  Though most of her characters are seemingly lacking in detail, with their similarly rounded heads, expressionless faces and stiff walking postures, Joanne Robertson fashions them to be unique and distinct in dress and hair.  The illustration of the parade of Mother Earth Water Walkers with the sun blazing behind them is simple but powerful, as is the collage of memories of places and people visited on their walks.
From The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson
The Water Walker may be an illustrated biography of Nokomis Josephine Mandamin's walking for Nibi but it is also a tale of action, both accomplished and endless, to do for Nibi as it has always done for us.

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The book launch for the book will take place on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at A Different Booklist in Toronto.  Both Grandmother Josephine Mandamin and author/illustrator Joanne Robertson will be in attendance to speak from 12:30 -2:30 p.m. with a book signing and reception fro 5-7 p.m. The events are posted here

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