The Water Walk: A reflection

I had the pleasure of attending my first Water Walk on a cold, rainy, windy Saturday morning at the Hamilton Waterfront.[1] Dressed in a long skirt, and bundled with a sweater, a coat and a rain jacket, I met with one of the youth from the camp, Denise (pseudonym) in the early morning. Unsure of what to expect, I contacted a colleague of mine, Stephanie Woodworth[2] a few weeks before the walk. We talked about proper walking protocols, proper dress, what it meant to be in ceremony during the walk, and who could hold the eagle staff and water vessel, among other things. Thankful for our talk, I felt more prepared leading up to the Water Walk.

The beginning of the Water Walk started with an official opening ceremony where we prayed to the Creator and made intentions for the walk. Everyone was welcomed and we were all given space to introduce ourselves and share some of our intentions. It was interesting to see the ways in which people came together to share very similar, yet also very different intentions. Some people sang, some spoke quietly, others cried, and others laughed.

While everyone was introducing themselves, I found myself distracted by the noises coming from the screeching railroad tracks behind us.[3] How could we be surrounded by so much beauty, tranquility and peacefulness from the water, and simultaneously be surrounded by so much noise, pollution and disadvantage? These contrasts carried throughout the walk as we travelled along the water and through Hamilton’s industrial core.

The further we walked, the more these distractions became louder and louder, until they started to just become a part of our walk. The quiet intentions we held at the beginning of the walk became louder in the face of the beeping, honking, roaring of engines, and buzzing of the buildings. I started to think more about the loud, boisterous sounds and the cyclical fading in and fading out of the noises and our voices in unison. What if they were more than just a distraction, and were perhaps a cry from the water that manifested itself through the loud noises, making sure to be heard? A cry that demanded a careful engagement and a noticing that went much deeper than what the water presented to the human eye. A cry that demanded an awakening of people to realize the harm, danger and toxicity that plagued the water’s well-being.

All these distractions made me think about the “blob” situated at the bottom of the Hamilton Harbour – the dark sludge made of toxic coal that was dumped into the water by the surrounding industries that has been out of sight and out of mind to many people living in the area. Maybe people don’t even know about the blob, that it exists beneath the water, or that it is nearly the size of 3 football fields?! (this is another story for a different blog post!)

But, maybe these noises were cries from local waters asking us to pay attention. Our voices then were our collective responses to the water- a fading in and out of quiet personal prayers to loud, outward petitions. The cries from the water guided us during the walk, encouraging us to listen, learn and reflect. It pushed us to become loud and alert when in direct presence of disaster and abuse, but also reminded us to be calm, and reflective in prayer when needed.

While acknowledging that we are all connected as ‘watered bodies’ (Neimanis, 2009), I thought about the parameters of this Water Walk and how it was situated around the body of water where the research and water camp referred to elsewhere in this blog was all conducted. I kept thinking back to our water camps focus on pollution and the flows of water. The RedHill Valley Creek that we explored through camp was one of the main arteries connecting the pollution we saw in the river, with the greater Windermere Basin and Lake Ontario (and beyond). Perhaps having past engagements with this water already meant that there was a sort of familiarity with it, where the water knew to push me further into reflection, and where I knew that I needed to listen and pay attention.

However, water, just like myself, is constantly changing and is always in flow. The water I walked alongside now, is not the same water I walked alongside a few weeks ago, a month ago, or a year ago. The notions of water flows and connections made me feel closer to the people I was walking with, even though we had never met before in the past, further making me think about our entangled journeys with each other, the water, and other human, nonhuman materials both locally and globally. What did it mean to walk for the water, here, in Hamilton Ontario, while simultaneously holding intentions for water in other parts of the globe?

These conversations and engagements with the water only represent a mere fraction of what happened that day at the Water Walk. Having to leave the group early to attend a funeral, I felt saddened that I couldn’t commit more to the water that day. However, I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn about and share with other humans and nonhumans our thoughts, concerns, and sentiments about our collective futures on this planet as they relate to water.[4]

In considering the history of colonialism and how it plays out in situations like water walks, please read this blog/reflection (click here) written by Denise. Her reflections and thoughts in relation to Grandmother Josephine and Terry Fox are important to consider and provided a critical lens to engage when thinking about water walks.

[1] I am a white, female settler residing on the stolen lands of the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee. I research with young people on the lands of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. As I embark on this research with water, I aim to better understand my presence as a white settler on these lands and my role in working towards a shared responsibility for the care of this earth.

[2] Stephanie helped to curate water stories and map past Water Walks from 2003-2018 in her Master’s research. You can take a look at Stephanie’s website here:

[3] Please note that the above reflections from the Water Walk are my own and in no way are meant to act as a summary of the ceremony as a whole. The Water Walks are sacred ceremonies where every step is a prayer. Each and every person holds their own intentions, reflections, responsibilities and prayers that are deeply personal.