Terry Fox. Everyone across Canada knows that name, the brave cancer survivor who tried to run across Canada to fund money for cancer research. While it was a great achievement, it pales in comparison to those of Grandmother Josephine Mandamin who walked 23,000 kilometers, more than 4 times as much as Terry’s 5,373 kilometers. Except I’m not sure you’ve heard much about Grandmother Josephine. Grandmother Josephine hails from Manitoulin Island, Ontario and since 2003 she created a movement of “Water Walks” to raise awareness for the pollution and misuse of our water. Starting her journey at the age of 61 and until she passed away in 2019, she was the founder of the Mother Earth Water Walkers which fought for Indigenous waters to be protected. This week all around the world, there are Terry Fox runs being held to honour his legacy, and while there are still water walks held around Canada, Josephine isn’t taught about in schools, on billboards, or the subject of numerous songs. But, why not? From a certain perspective, it could be privilege, as some closed-minded people are more likely to show support for a white man than to an indigenous woman. As harsh as it may sound, it is a situation that has arisen several times in my life. Just the other day, I was told that it is mandatory to participate in the Terry Fox run at my school and we should each bring in five dollars to donate… Immediately I thought of how none of my teachers ever mentioned Grandma Josephine and how frankly, I would rather our school learn something new and be educated about Indigenous waters and pollution. Even though cancer is a terrible disease that affects many people most people are aware of Terry’s story and impact. But I’m not sure I could say the same about Grandmother Josephine. I wish I could though, because she deserves more recognition for her work that brought people together to protect Indigenous waters and educated many. But at the end of the day, it is unlikely she will ever have the same status and recognition as Terry Fox. Yet we should all strive to educate ourselves more on Grandmother Josephine and Indigenous activists, whether it be by sharing this blog with someone or a quick google search to learn about more about Josephine, we all could do more, including myself. I hope this has showed you a different perspective and even taught you something new. 🙂
Throughout the summer, I often travel with my family northwest of where we live to our trailer located a two minute walk from Lake Huron. We spend the majority of our time outside going for walks, sitting at the campfire, at the beach, or looking for various animals at the pond across the street, or in the bushes/forrest surrounding our site. My 3 year old daughter has an agenda each morning: 1. To wake up and be the first one outside; and 2. to check up on the fish, frogs, Turkey Vultures, Blue Jays and her friends “Chip and Dale” the chipmunks. She puts on her wellies and off she walks over to the pond to see the frogs and the fish. Next, she walks a little bit further to the cell phone tower where perched high high up, nearly half a dozen Turkey Vultures sit, stalking their prey. She then returns from the pond and cell tower to join us for breakfast, making sure to leave peanuts for the Blue Jays, and Cheerios for the chipmunks.
On this particular day, it was quite cool and overcast so we decided to ditch the beach and go for a stroll down to the pier. We sat among a young couple having breakfast, wrapped tightly in a warm blanket, and 3 fisher(people). While sitting at the pier, we noticed two fish turned upside down in the water, floating, dead. Why were these fish dead? Perhaps they were poisoned by toxic waste and pollution? Or perhaps they starved as a result of their habitats being taken over by various other humans/nonhuman effects.
“Look, he caught a small perch!” shouted one man. Excited, my daughter wanted to go over and see. The man struggled to take the lure out of the fish’s mouth. There was blood dripping down his fingers. My daughter looked up to me when the man tossed it back into the lake and asked if the man would catch the same fish again. The man chimed in replying “Not likely”, with a smile on his face. He laughed and then continued to say, “That fish will most likely be a seagulls lunch”. Not knowing what to say to my daughter at the moment about the harsh reality of leisurely fishing, we went to sit back down and stare at the water. It was there that I began to think about connections to fish, and what it meant to fish for recreation. I had never given much thought to fishing as a leisure sport before- I used to occasionally go with my brothers and my grandpa when we would go to our cottage in Georgian Bay. Catch and release, whats the issue? The fish go back to the water and everything is fine. Or so I thought. Perhaps the fish that I had seen just minutes prior to this one had also been the result of the catch and release technique. How could I have been so silly when I was younger to not realize that oftentimes, fish are harmed and/or die because of this? The thought that we sacrifice fish at the cost of our pleasure was unsettling.
Killing fish for the purpose of human consumption (eating) or healing (like when using fish skin to wrap wounds) is another situation that also brings with it some provocations. A lot of cultures around the world (including Indigenous* and non-Indigenous groups in Canada) depend on hunting and fishing as their main source of food. Fish can be regarded as sacred and as a key component of survival in these communities. In considering human/nonhuman matter, the intra-action between fish and humans in some cultures can be very highly regarded and kin-centric focused. Fish here are not seen as a resource for the sole purpose of human extraction but are seen in relation to their integral part of human identity and culture.
On the other hand, people are also concerned about the killing of fish (and other animals for that matter) for the sole purpose of human gain or consumption. Concerns regarding the raising of animals for consumption purposes, the extraction of land and abuse of land to make space for breeding animals for consumption, and also the ways in which animals are “taken care of” (both in the way that they are raised, and also how they exit this world), are some key concerns (among many others). Overfishing in certain areas is a problem. With invasive species in the water ways (phragmites for example), and toxins entering the water, it is making it more challenging for fisheries to re-populate certain pools of water, and even when populated, the ecosystems are becoming more threatened.
In other areas, the extraction of fish is welcomed as certain fish populations are actually seen as problematic. For example, at the Hamilton Harbour, carp (bottom-feeding fish) are problematic as they affect the livelihoods of particular habitats/ecologies. Extraction of carp from this area is viewed as one way of helping to control and conserve other species with/in the surrounding waters and land.
To add another layer, how are fish as pets seen? Do they or can they bring or hold status like the koi fish in Japan, or are they another companion specie for humans? Is it okay to own a certain type of fish, like a goldfish? How are we mutually entangled with fish-pets?
As I continue to think with these questions, and continue to visit the fish at the pond with my daughter, I am forced to think with Zoe Todds ideas about tenderness (see her academic and personal blogs via this link: https://fishphilosophy.org/) (Zoe Todd Tenderness Manifesto: https://zoestodd.com/tenderness-manifesto/) Mutually entangled and forever changing, I continue to explore what it means to care and live with/among fish and water in the 21st century…
*I would like to note that I am a white female settler working and thinking on the stolen territories of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. If you enjoyed reading this and thinking about fish, then you would really enjoy the work of Zoe Todd, Métis scholar- check out her amazing work (and beautiful fish art) here: https://zoestodd.com/about/