Main image: Erin Dixon and Deina Bomberry (in photo at left) and some of the participants at the All Nations Skeleton Lake Water Walk (right). “The Eagle Staff symbolizes many teachings and has been with us for, as we say, for thousands of years or time immemorial. This staff, like many, travels to many different communities, circles and Nations,” said Dixon. (Photos courtesy of Erin Dixon)
“Many of our elders say we need some policy and structural changes for reconciliation but we also need to strengthen our connection to the land and waters,” said local Indigenous woman Erin Dixon. “When we have a cultural and spiritual connection we naturally protect our land.”
With that sentiment in mind, Dixon organized the All Nations Skeleton Lake Water Walk on June 29 and 30 in order to raise awareness for a proposed quarry that opponents believe will negatively impact the lake and its surrounding watershed.
“Water walks are not protests,” Dixon said. “They are a call to awareness or call to consciousness in order to protect our water.”
One of her inspirations for the water walk came from Josephine Mandamin, an Indigenous elder and water activist who died earlier this year. Mandamin walked thousands of kilometres around all five Great Lakes calling for cleaner water and greater water protection in Canada.
Dixon sought advice from Indigenous elders and leaders to determine the best time to hold the local water walk.
“Deina Bomberry was an amazing help as she has led a water walk in Parry Sound for nine years,” she said. “In the winter we spent time around the water to connect and pray about it and I had a strong feeling it would be best around Canada Day. It was a significant time to do it because it helped us reflect our country’s relationship to our waterways and how we are all connected through a larger story.”
The All Nations Skeleton Lake Water Walk began the morning of June 29 with a sunrise ceremony and the collection of water in a copper vessel. Dixon’s nieces later released the water back into the lake to represent the future generation of women.
Members of the community were invited to attend the sunrise ceremony, and to join Dixon for all or part of the walk. More than 40 people attended the ceremony, both locals and cottagers, and a handful accompanied her on the water walk.
A water walk is traditionally led by women. Dixon and those joining her stopped at each body of water they encountered, including streams and rivers, in order to pray over the water.
The weekend was filled with Indigenous music in various Native languages, praying, connecting to the water, and reflecting on how the group as a community can help protect Skeleton Lake’s water.
“People were walking and sharing about their lives and having beautiful conversations,” said Dixon, who grew up cottaging on Skeleton Lake and said it was the only constant throughout her life. “A lot of the participants had never been involved in a water walk before so it was amazing to see them come together to build a strong community and form new bonds throughout the weekend.”
Doing water walks is all part of a larger dream and collective movement. We want the community to dream and envision how they can bring awareness to water walking.
Dixon has worked in Indigenous communities all over Canada. She has devoted her life to working with different industry leaders across Ontario to educate others about Indigenous reconciliation to create positive societal change.
Her work has included educating OPP officers, healing historical trauma for Indigenous leaders, creating programming on wise practices, leading awareness training around Indigenous culture and working in communities on suicide prevention.
And she is passionate about water.
Dixon wants to raise awareness about the potential effects of a proposed quarry near Skeleton Lake on the Muskoka watershed.
“The applicants, who keep applying and applying, want to remove 100 truckloads per day of rock and sand,” she said. “We need to understand the impact it will have on the water, ecosystem, animals and people living here.”
A group of concerned Skeleton Lake community members have rallied together and started a website to raise awareness about the implications of the quarry.
One of the reasons the Skeleton Lake community has such strong opposition to the quarry is due to the lake’s unique geological features and the pristine quality of the water. The lake is believed to have been formed by a meteorite impact and has a limestone shell which helps keep it pure and also mercury-free (the only Muskoka lake which can make that claim).
According to the Ontario Landowners Association, “The proposed pit is to be allowed to excavate well below the water table. The concern is that the blasting will send vibrations through the dense granite under the lake shattering the brittle limestone shell. This will let the mercury from the Earth’s crust leach into the lake from below.”
It adds that, “The winds which blow from the northwest will carry more of the same toxicity to settle in the lake, over the population of Muskoka and beyond for months. The water from Skeleton Lake, which was pure, will now carry mercury and other heavy metals to increase the contamination downstream, raising the level of pollutants in Lake Rosseau, Lake Joseph, and accumulating in Lake Muskoka. The process of throwing your waste downstream for others to deal with was stopped by municipalities more than half a century ago.”
Dixon plans to make the All Nations Skeleton Lake Water Walk an annual event. To learn more about her work visit starblanketproject.earth.
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