Tasha Beeds: Walking With Water
On this episode of What About Water? we’re learning from traditional knowledge. Jay sits down with Tasha Beeds, a grassroots Indigenous academic and Water Walker. She takes us through the origins of Water Walking – an Indigenous ceremony recognizing and connecting with water. Beeds enters into ceremony for the water – discussing what it means to raise consciousness about water as a living entity.
On the Last Word, we hear from Josée Street, a young Indigenous woman who shows how scientists can bridge the gap between traditional ways of knowing and western thinking.
Tasha Beeds is a Plains Cree, Scottish-Metis and Bajan academic. She is a Mide-Kwe and a Water Walker. She is a doctoral candidate in Indigenous Studies at Trent University, and holds affiliate positions at multiple universities including: Limited-term lecturer in the department of Indigenous Studies at University of Saskatchewan, Guest Lecturer for the University of Windsor Faculty of Law Indigenous Legal Orders Institute, Adjunct professor with Queens University’s New Anishinaabe-based Institute, Inaugural Visiting Indigenous Scholar for the University of Carleton Ānako Indigenous Research Institute.
She’s part of a group of Indigenous People called Water Walkers who enter into ceremony to raise consciousness about the life of water itself. Tasha has been a water walker for 10 years and has walked approximately 7000 km to protect and raise awareness about the state of water on Turtle Island.
Josée Street is a 23-year-old Oji-Cree woman belonging to the Martin Clan. She was born in Dryden, Ontario and raised in Ottawa. She attended the Environmental Technician’s program at Canadore College for about three years in North Bay, where she currently resides.
Josee is also an ambassador with Water Movement and featured weekly in Water Movement’s video learning library. The library includes a wide variety of content designed for Indigenous audiences in various stages of their water career: from technical and hands-on for day-to-day operations, maintenance, and troubleshooting for current operators to classroom style with Q/A for both prospective operators and those interested in the water sector; and cultural and traditional videos for preserving cultures, spirituality, traditions, and language.
- Water Walks emerge from the Midewiwin Society. Tasha is a Midewiwin person herself, and is being trained to carry that knowledge forward.
- Eagle Feather News article on the Sasksatchewan River Walk: Women to walk the length of Saskatchewan River in ceremony
- Saskatchewan River Walk Linktree
- A message from Tasha Beeds, Water Walker
- Legacy Facebook page of Josephine-Ba Mandamin’s Last Water Walk: For the Earth and Water Walk
- Water Movement Website
- Water Movement YouTube
- Water walkers: Indigenous women draw on tradition to raise environmental awareness | CBC Radio
Tasha Beeds – Tasha Beeds
Josée Street – Submitted
Tasha Beeds: The most, most heart wrenching, moments for me, was coming to this territory, you know, walking through Alberta and Saskatchewan. But it was so dry. I have never – I have never experienced the type of physical exhaustion as I did on this, this walk for the Saskatchewan river. And, you know, it was heartbreaking, because the land was literally a tinderbox and you know, we, and you see the world differently when you’re walking.
Jay Famiglietti: Water may be the source of all life. But water sources are under pressure from overuse, from contamination. Protecting water, preserving it. That’s what we aim for. And that’s where we can learn from Indigenous people. I’m Jay Famiglietti. On this episode of What About Water? We meet a water walker, a water activist, a woman whose connection to water and to the land comes from teachings passed down through generations.
She has a different way of looking at water, different water values. Tasha Beeds is Plains Cree, Scottish-Métis, and Bajan. She’s a doctoral candidate in Indigenous studies at Trent University. And she’s part of a group of Indigenous people who enter into ceremony to raise consciousness about the life of water itself.
She joins us now from her home in Saskatoon on Treaty Six Territory.
Tasha, Welcome to What About Water?
Tasha Beeds: Ah, thank you so much. It is a great honor to be here and to be able to speak with you and your respective audience members. I’ll just take a moment to acknowledge myself. In the language of, of my territory. So I would say, [Tasha introduces herself in Cree language]
So in this way, I invite the ancestors. My ancestors as a nehiyaw Plains Cree woman of Scottish and Métis descent, I am situated in my homelands and in my home territories. And I’m grateful to be here and grateful to be activating from the territories that my respect of maternal ancestors called home.
I also belong to a society called the Midewin society. And my particular lodge is known as Minweyweywigaan Midewiwin lodge. And, our home base is in Roseau River First Nations in Southern Manitoba. We also have another lodge in Wikwemikong unceded First Nation, which is located in Manitoulin island, in Ontario.
And so those two places have informed my own teachings and the people and I’m also known as belonging to the Bear Clan and so that is in relation to the way that we conceive our place in creation.
And so those animals are also my relatives. So I’m, I’m really happy to be here. I’m excited to be able to share just a little bit of what we do as water walkers.
Jay Famiglietti: We are equally as excited. Really just thrilled to have you on here and really looking forward to learning about you and your history. And let’s start with the water walkers.
What is a water walker and what made you decide to become one?
Tasha Beeds: So a water walk is an actual ceremony. It emerges out of the Midewiwin society, and it was initiated by a grandmother known, a late grandmother by the name of Biidaasige-ba. And we put the BA at the end of her name to acknowledge that she’s passed on.
She’s now deceased. And so her English name – many people may have heard of her – her English name is Josephine-ba Mandamin. And she was a grandmother who began water walking in 2003. Taking those ceremonial elements that we learn of inside of the Midewiwin lodge and, and bringing it, bringing it out into the open in response to a prophecy that many of the elders from her lodge. Her lodge was, she belonged to the three fires Midewiwin lodge.
There was a prophecy discussed amongst the elders how you know, water was becoming more and more, more and more precious. And there was this notion that at some point in the near future water would be more valuable than gold. And so, the late Eddie Benton Banai, he put forth a question to the lodge and asked, what are you going to do about it?
And so the late Josephine-ba Mandamin, wanted to take action. She wanted to, as she always says, walk her talk. So she decided to take that ceremony into the public realm. And it was quite significant because of course, as you may know, Indigenous Nations, at one point in, in Canadian history, we weren’t allowed to practice our spirituality.
In fact, we were imprisoned if we were caught doing so. And so this was a really momentous moment, for these grandmothers and it was more Josephine was joined by her sister, Melvina Flamand and other, other grandmothers. And they decided they were going to take a copper vessel, and copper is significant in the Anishinaabe Nation.
And they would begin at the source uh, of the headwaters of the body of water they were going to be walking for. And I believe it was Lake Superior. And so they decided to walk around Lake Superior, entering into ceremony for that water, acknowledging that the water is actually living and as such can respond to, to prayer, to song, to us acknowledging the spirit of that water and in doing so, she raised consciousness.
That was one of the first that she did. And she walked all along the perimeters of every Great Lake. She walked for the Mississippi and other bodies of water.
And so I didn’t set out to be, to be a Water walker. It was not even part of my consciousness. But in 2011, I was visited. And this is a story that I sometimes am reluctant to share because a lot of people don’t recognize how our landscape and our water scapes are also inhabited by non-human entities. But in our respective Indigenous traditions and cultures and our stories that have been handed down, we know this to be true.
And so at this time I was visited by an entity that’s known as Mishibijiw in the Anishinaabe language, and that translates into the Water Panther. And when I saw him, in this, this visitation through the dream world, he was drying up and, and parts of him were like dried leather. And I didn’t even know who he was at the time.
I had no consciousness of his significance, but I was so moved by his state of being, this like state of dehydration and the landscape around him was completely devoid of water. And I was so struck and so moved that I immediately woke up and I was like, I need to do something. This is significant.
So I reached out to a number of elders amongst my own Plains Cree people, and not too many had heard of him. And they told me to go back and ask the Ojibwe. And so I did, and I, I went back and I said like, Who is this? Do you have this water panther? Like this person, this being that’s affiliated with the water?
And they were like, Oh, that’s Mishibijiw. He’s the one who presides over the waters in the great lakes. He’s the ultimate Nibi Manidoo, or that great water spirit. And so I went back and I followed Anishinaabe protocol to reach out again, and he came back a second time. And this time he implored me to help.
He said that, you know, we, as people, especially Anishinaabe and Indigenous people needed to remember our obligations and our spiritual obligations and our obligations to creation as Indigenous people.
He asked me to remind the people that those beings are still here in existence in our territories and they were in desperate need. And what was going to happen to them, would eventually happen to us. And so I said I would help him. I didn’t at that moment, know how. And the very next day, the very next day, a group of Anishinaabe women happened to call me and they said, Oh we’re walking for Rice Lake.
I was living close to Peterborough Ontario at the time, I’m in an area known as the Kawarthas. And I said, You’re walking? Like, what do you mean ‘you’re walking.’? And she said, Yeah, we’re walking. We’re entering into ceremony for this water. And you know, we could use the help. Can you come?
And I was like, oh, this is it. This is how I’m supposed to help. And so I’ve walked now for almost 13 years for the water in total, and I’ve accumulated almost 7,000 kilometers, like on my own personal body. Last summer I actually brought this ceremony to Saskatchewan and we walked for the Saskatchewan River.
Jay Famiglietti: Tasha, this is, I mean, this is just amazing. So, I mean, this unbelievable journey that you’ve been on from the spiritual world and the dream world, and then you know, getting this, this calling and then this coincidence of like, sort of connecting with the water walkers the next day, and then the literally thousands of kilometers that you have been walking.
It’s just amazing, but like I’m still having trouble visualizing. Like what would I see? What would a person standing along the Saskatchewan river, you know, on the Meewasin trail seeing you walk by, what would we see? What would we experience?
Tasha Beeds: You would see it’s more than just a physical endeavor. It’s very much a spiritual ceremony. There’s certain protocols that we do. We carry the water in a copper vessel, a copper pail. You would see myself carrying the water inside of that copper pail, and the women as the life givers, the doorway through which all human life enters, in recognition of that power, and in recognition that as babies, our newborns are encased inside water, of course. And so that as we carry the water where we’re recognizing our role as life givers.
And you would see the male or the two-spirited person carrying that Eagle staff. And we walk side by side. And so as we walk, we sing, we pray, we observe it’s actually a research method as well.
And we also invite others to join us. So, you know, you may be moved to say, What is it that they’re doing? And so, you know, we would invite you to come along and walk with us as we go through the territory. And during that time, when we have visitors, those who are known as the core walkers will share – share some of the protocols and share some of the stories and the observations.
And, and so it really is about community building as well, and acknowledging that that many people have those relationships with the water.
Jay Famiglietti: You know, I am going to invite myself so next time you’re through. There is no question that I want to join. So I’m curious. So when you’re coming through population, places like Saskatoon or Regina, what kind of reaction do the water walkers get?
Tasha Beeds: Because the ceremony is now becoming more and more known. One of my water nieces is an anishinaabekwe by the name of Autumn Peltier and she has brought recognition and consciousness of this way of thinking to the world stage. And so many people recognize who we are to begin with, and if they don’t, you know, we try to reach out ahead of time.
So we contact, for instance, our first point of contact is all of the Indigenous Nations who are on the route. And so we ask permission from those Nations to enter into their traditional territory first and foremost. And then we contact, you know, the city. We’ve often partnered with the police in various – particularly in Ontario – but we also had contact with the Saskatchewan river.
We – it’s really important to emphasize we are not protesters. In fact, we don’t even use the word activist. Instead, I prefer the term activator because we’re activating those traditional Indigenous concepts and ways of knowing.
And we’re activating those ancestral ties and responsibilities and obligations, as well as we’re looking ahead to our future generations. And so you know, we don’t stop traffic. We don’t walk in the middle of the road. It’s a ceremony and as such, the people who joined under our protocols are expected to follow those protocols.
And so it’s a moving ceremony and we garner quite a bit of attention. You know, we’ve gone through some of the most major cities and in Canada, we’ve gone through Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, into the states. And so, you know, people, once they become conscious of the fact that we’re trying to raise awareness about the need to protect the water – not only for us, but for all of life, for the animals and the insects and the water beings, the birds. Every part of creation relies upon water.
And so that’s our, our primary message is that, you know, we need to think about the ways we’re relating to the water. And we need to think about that water and think ahead, like what our future generations will need access to clean water.
I mean, that’s becoming an issue right now and I’m sure that the Global Water Institute, you know, they’re one of the forerunners in bringing that to the common public’s attention. And we do the same thing just in a different way. Where we’re using our bodies to draw attention, where we’re committing our bodies and our hearts and our minds and our spirits to that water, for that water, and for all of life.
You know, one of the most heart wrenching moments for me was coming to this territory, you know, walking through Alberta and Saskatchewan. But it was so dry. I have never – I have never experienced the type of physical exhaustion as I did on this walk for the Saskatchewan river. And, you know, it was heartbreaking, because the land was literally a tinderbox and you know, we…and you see the world differently when you’re walking, right?
When you’re in your vehicle, you know, you’re kind of just zooming by and you’re like, oh, that’s, that’s a really beautiful mountain or that’s a beautiful… but you don’t see the levels, how much the water has gone down. You don’t notice creation the way you do when you’re walking.
You know, we would get up at three o’clock in the morning and be out the door by – or out of our tents, we were staying in tents – and we’d walk all day till three or four in the afternoon.
I was in tears. The land was so dry. You know, there were no signs sometimes. Like the insects would come to the pail of water because in many parts, as we moved through Alberta and Saskatchewan, there were many parts it was incredible. And it was really beautiful too, because one of our most popular supporters were farmers. A lot of farmers stopped and said, what are you doing? And so, you know, once we….you know and the water herself can’t stop moving. So that’s the other trick. Once we lift that pail of water, we can’t come to a complete stop and we can’t look backwards.
And so there’s some protocols and it’s mimicking the flow of the river, herself. Right? And so we would pass the water like in a relay style. So you’re not walking, you know, unless you have that physical stamina to walk five kilometers, but if you wanted to, you could. You could walk the five and then hand off to say, maybe one of the grandmothers could only do a kilometer or half a kilometer and she’d walk that length and so on.
So the water never stops moving. And we, as humans are conscious that, you know, we’re not quite as strong as the flow of the Saskatchewan river. And so in that way, we recognize our humanity.
Jay Famiglietti: Tasha, this is incredible. I mean, not only is the water moving and you’re moving and it’s a moving ceremony, but like, it’s just incredibly moving emotionally to hear about this, to visualize this.
Like I can’t wait to participate. I want to ask you about something. I watched a YouTube video – which was great by the way and we can share a link to that on our What About Water website – But you said something like the water responds to us and we’ve been talking about a lot of the way we respond to water, but when you talk about water responding to us, what do you mean by that?
Tasha Beeds: Just like the way your, your auntie or your grandmother would respond. If you went to her and you said, Thank you, thank you for all that you’ve given me, in the same way that, you know, that grandmother will beam with love and energy, if you sing her a song, I have found in my experiences walking alongside and stopping and doing those very things, the water does respond.
Sometimes it’s, a you know, it’s, a movement. Sometimes it’s the feeling of the most precious sense of peace that you can imagine. And we all track onto those sensations and those feelings. We just don’t necessarily recognize that feeling as energy coming directly from the water and entering and creating that relationship with her.
Yeah. So it’s a powerful moment. I think a lot of people feel those inherent connections already. They may not have the knowledge or they may not have the, you know, the Indigenous framework to think in that way, but people feel it.
You know, when you go out into that fresh rain and, you know, you just feel that rain hitting you and it’s washing away all of that day’s struggle and trauma. Or, you know, you’re walking alongside that Saskatchewan River and you just feel that sense of just utter and complete This is what I needed, you may not be recognizing that water is giving you that energy. And so we encourage people to be open to these ideas and in turn, enter into that reciprocal relationship. So you’re moving beyond just using the water for your own pleasure and you know, maybe you’re stopping and you’re picking up that garbage.
Maybe you’re stopping at the water’s edge and you’re just talking as if you would talk again to your auntie or your grandmother, you’re saying Thank you. Thank you for this life that you’re providing, not just for us as humans, but for all of life, the animals, the birds, the insects. Thank you.
And in this way, just as we recognize the earth is living, we believe, and I know wholeheartedly that as you begin to create that relationship, she will respond more and more to you. But it’s like anybody else you wouldn’t just jump on to your, to an elderly ladies lap and say, HI! right? You have to enter into that relationship with those bodies of water.
Jay Famiglietti: Not without…not without getting a lot of trouble.
So, you know, I really love the way you frame that as a reciprocal relationship. Most people aren’t thinking that way. And I know you water walkers are, so let me ask you this question. You and your fellow walkers have covered so many kilometers and you’ve been engaged in these beautiful rituals and moving ceremonies that have covered so much time and so much space..
How do you know if you’re having an impact, if you stopped doing this, what, what would happen?
Tasha Beeds: I believe that the impact would be tremendous. I know we’re creating a difference, not just for those bodies of water, but for our Indigenous youth and even non-Indigenous youth. You know, we’re showing the future generations that you can enter into a different kind of relationship with the earth and the water.
And we’re showing them that it’s in their power. They themselves can enact these traditions and this cultural way of thinking. They can enter into that relationship. You know, when we look at the trajectory of the conversations on water from when the late Josephine-Ba Mandamin began this movement in 2003, and we look at the conversations about water today.
She inspired generations and generations of us as Indigenous people, but her reach went beyond that. You know, she was recognized at all levels of government. She was given many different awards, and so every single time, you know, we’re representing the voice of the water.
And people are moved. You know, again, we just have to look at the history of the conversation around water and the fact that the water walks are now known internationally. Again, I go back to my young niece, Autumn Peltier who spoke of these very things at the United Nations. And she’s gone all across the world and we find those commonalities with like-minded people.
And so I really believe there is those partnerships and that recognition that we are all united by water. That’s what Josephine-Ba always used to say, we are united by water. What happens to the water is going to happen to all of us.
Jay Famiglietti: I’m taking notes. Those are just great quotes.
But I have to ask you, how long will you be keeping this up ?
Tasha Beeds: I will walk until I can walk no more. I will continue to walk. I have walked every year since 2011 and I’m nearing 50 and I will continue to walk like the grandmothers before me until I can’t anymore.
I have made a lifelong commitment to the water and to moving for her, in this way. Whenever I’m called upon I do my best to answer, whether that be, you know, in invitation to speak in this way or invited to different communities to share more. I will always move for the water because I’m moving for my grandchildren. I’m moving for my great-grandchildren seven generations ahead.
That’s who I’m moving for. And so, that’s it! Forever. As long as I can.
Jay Famiglietti: That is fantastic. That’s so great to hear. And I will say that I think you carrying that torch of inspiration of your ancestors is very clear. You’re very inspired. Or should we say in your case, you’re carrying the copper kettle of activating.
Tasha Beeds: Copper! There’s so much more that I would love to share. And again, I welcome any opportunity to reach out. People can reach out to me. I believe a link will be shared on your social media pages and people can follow us. They can get a hold of us and if they want to join us at any given point, um, we welcome the help.
Jay Famiglietti: And we are looking forward – we at What About Water and the Global Institute for Water Security and the University of Saskatchewan, we are looking forward to partnering with you. And so we will keep in touch and we will be looking forward to this water walk and other, you know, events we do – we’re doing most things online these days – but other online forums where we can get you to come and speak and you know, share your incredible insights with us. So thanks again, Tasha. It’s really been a pleasure.
Tasha Beeds: Miigwetch to all of you for taking the time to hear a little bit of the story. There’s so much more, so we encourage everyone to keep following us and join us.
Jay Famiglietti: We’re looking forward to it. Thanks again.
Tasha Beeds: Thank you. Thank you again. Bye for now.
Jay Famiglietti: Tasha Beeds is a grassroots Indigenous academic and water walker. She holds affiliate positions at the University of Saskatchewan and at Carleton University’s Ānako Indigenous Research Institute.
Jay Famiglietti: As we’ve heard, water walking is as much a part of ceremony as it is raising awareness about the value and precious nature of water.
And sometimes it’s the marriage between science and tradition that can help advance the protection of water in the most meaningful of ways.
Josee Street: Bonjour, my name is Josee Street. I am a 23 year old Oji-Cree woman, and I belong to the Martin clan. My spirit name is wâpi mêkwan iskwew which means white feather woman. And I attended Canadore College for about three years in their environmental technician’s program here in North Bay.
I’ve always had this kind of overwhelming desire to pursue a career in the water industry. The biggest difference that I noticed, especially after coming out of college in the environmental field, is that our culture teaches reciprocity.
It teaches that the water spirit has memory and feelings just like we do. And if we take care of them, they will take care of us. And I’ve seen a lot of separation when we go into the field as scientists, it’s kind of like a very factual, very literal sense, which is good, but it forgets the spirit that is living within the rocks and the plants and the trees. And it still is like watching the ecosystem through a glass instead of getting our hands in and knowing that we’re a part of that ecosystem as well.
I do have a lot of hope for the future because we talk a lot about resiliency. And I like to think of myself as a lake sometimes. Um, if you leave – although a lake can be poisoned, it itself can turn itself around and slowly with time and patience and love can heal.
Western culture a lot of times refers to rocks as things, as objects. It’s it, it’s a tree, it’s water. It’s just it’s very separate from us. But to us, when I go out into the field, especially after my teachings, I look at, you know, grandfather sun and grandmother moon. And I think of the trees as my cousins, and I think of the water as, you know, carrying the spirits of my ancestors and it’s kind of bringing that connection back into the land instead of things being objects.
When I’m in the classroom, I’ve constantly like reminded myself: I am here as an indigenous woman first and a scientist second.
Jay Famiglietti: That was Josée Street. She’s an ambassador for Water Movement – a Canadian nonprofit that provides a collaborative online space for Indigenous water treatment operators to connect, share lessons learned, and access training videos that act as educational tools. Check it out at watermovement.ca.
That’s it for this episode of what about water? We record and produce this podcast on Treaty Six Territory, the homeland of first nations and Métis people. It’s produced by the Walrus Lab and the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan. For more resources, check out whataboutwater.org.
Our crew here at What About Water? is Mark Ferguson, Erin Stephens, Laura McFarlan, Fred Reibin, Jesse Witow, Shawn Ahmed, and Andrea Rowe. Our audio engineer is Wayne Giesbrecht and our producers are Farha Ahktar and Jen Quesnel. What about Water is available on Spotify, Apple, and wherever you download your favorite podcasts.
I’m Jay Famigiletti. Thanks for listening.