Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Highly Recommended: THE WATER WALKER written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson

Often, people write to ask me for books about Native people who are activists, or who might be involved in, or organizing, actions of some kind to protect their nations or homelands. 

Joanne Robertson's book is one I'm happy to recommend. 

Robertson's The Water Walker, published in 2017 by Second Story Press, is about Josephine Mandamin. Here's a photo of the two women, at a recent event promoting the book:

Photo source is Anishinabek News: goo.gl/LwBpvU 
This collaboration is significant. Robertson and Mandamin worked together on the book. It is the epitome of #OwnVoices. Robertson joined Mandamin on walks that took place in 2011, 2015, and 2017. Here's the description, from the publisher's website:
The story of a determined Ojibwe Grandmother (Nokomis) Josephine Mandamin and her great love for Nibi (water). Nokomis walks to raise awareness of our need to protect Nibi for future generations, and for all life on the planet. She, along with other women, men, and youth, have walked around all the Great Lakes from the four salt waters, or oceans, to Lake Superior. The walks are full of challenges, and by her example Josephine challenges us all to take up our responsibility to protect our water, the giver of life, and to protect our planet for all generations.
Robertson turned Mandamin's work into an engaging story that invites children to learn about her activism. Told from the point of view of a child talking about her grandmother, Nokomis, we read about how Nokomis gives thanks, every day, for water. 

While she is thankful for water, she doesn't yet have the awareness of what might happen to it. One day, an ogimaa (Ojibwe for leader or chief) told her that water is at risk. He asked her, "What are you going to do about it?" Looking around, she understood what the ogimaa meant. Water was being wasted and polluted by people who didn't seem to understand the ramifications of their treatment of life-giving water. Weeks passed as his words and her observations weighed on her. Then one night she had a dream. The next day, she put a plan into action. 

See that? She called her sister, and kwewok niichiis (women friends). I'm not Ojibwe, but my heart swells seeing those Ojibwe words in this book! I see them all the time from Ojibwe friends and colleagues on social media. And clearly, these women are in a modern day kitchen. I love that, too. This story is centered in the present day. None of that silly or romantic nonsense in this book! That's a huge plus, too. 

The action they took? Walking, with Nokomis at the head of the line, carrying a pail of water and a Migizi Staff. 

They walked each spring, for seven years. That's serious and hard work--made accessible to kids by sneakers. The kwewok niichiis all wore sneakers as they walked. Every spring, they'd set out again. They started in 2003, walking around the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Sneakers wear out, as kids know. As they read (or as they're read to) The Water Walker, they'll enjoy the pages where the sneakers appear in text or illustration.

As they walked, they prayed and sang and "left semaa in every lake, river, stream, and puddle they met." I'm pointing out that Robertson says, simply, that they left semaa (sacred tobacco) as they walked. It is a significant action, but Robertson doesn't give details. I really appreciate that! Some things need not be shared with readers. In an #OwnVoices story, we know what to--and what not to--disclose. 

In the next pages, we learn that Nokomis spoke to a lot of people about the walking. She was on TV, in the newspapers, on the radio, and in videos

In 2010, women of other nations joined Nokomis and her kwewok niichiis. They brought water from the oceans. The Water Walker ends with a page much like one from early in the book, where Nokomis is outside giving thanks. The last words in the story part of the book are the ones in the question the ogimaa had asked Nokomis in 2003. This time, though, the words are directed at the reader. What are we going to do about what his happening to water? 

On the final page, there's a glossary and pronunciation guide of the Ojibwe words used in the story, and there's additional information about Josephine Mandamin. Readers are invited to write to her, telling them what they're doing to protect water. 

The Water Walker is an extraordinary book. I highly recommend it and hope that Second Story gives us more like it.


Unknown said...

Great review of book. Very insightful and gives me good knowledge base for possibilities for ny students

Unknown said...

I was 60 when I befriended a person of color and out of curiosity about similarities and differences I began reading, exploring, dialoging and waking up to reality. Today I read an honest account of Thanksgiving. At 67 I learn truth. Ignorant for too long.