Photo: “Grandma Josephine” and Jannan Cornstalk at a water ceremony hosted by Green Elk Rapids on May 20, 2018.
By JoAnne Cook
Today, October 12, is Indigenous People’s Day, a holiday that celebrates and honors Native American peoples and commemorates our histories and cultures.
I’ll participate in a virtual panel discussion tonight with several tribal members and elders called “Moving Forward Together: The Doctrine of Discovery and the Genocide of the Indigenous People,” as part of a local celebration of Indigenous people in Northern Michigan. You can tune in via Zoom at 7 pm.
I’ll be talking about how we can move forward and do so together—Native and non-Native communities, alike. Our world view in some ways is different, but when it comes to Earth, our land, water, plants and animals, there’s a common goal in how we take care of and preserve what’s here. That’s one way of moving forward together—realizing our commonalities as human beings on this Earth. If we can have conversations about those commonalities and those things we all support and believe in, then we’ll gain an understanding and respect.
Indigenous People’s Day is a way to bring awareness and share who we are, the Anishinaabek. We do not share the sentiment of what Columbus Day means. We are thriving native communities with our own governments, living and learning our way of life. We still hold onto our spiritual faith and belief, and are healing from the past. It is important to make that known, as there are some people today who don’t know that we are here.
Tonight’s agenda will include: an opening prayer and song from Grand Traverse Band tribal member and chairman of the Tribal Council David Arroyo; a land acknowledgement and thanks offered by Leelanau County Commissioner Ty Wessell; a video and stories of the culture and lives of Leelanau’s Anishinaabek people; and our panel discussion led by attorney and Title Track executive director, Holly Bird.
“We hope to bring points of understanding with the local people and the original people of this area,” Bird told The Leelanau Ticker. “I’m going to be talking a little about the point of contact that led to our genocide, and both the historical and the real modern-day context we are still dealing with on a regular basis. It is good to hear what that is and what that means. … With the panel, we will talk about how indigenous people and non-indigenous peoples DO come together … there are a lot of excellent teachers in that regard on the panel.”
One of our great teachers was “Grandma” Josephine Mandamin, who passed away in February 2019 at age 77. She was a grandmother, elder, and founding member of the water protectors movement. She was a survivor of the Canadian Indian residential school system and founder of the Mother Earth Water Walkers. She walked about 25,000 miles around the shorelines of all the Great Lakes, and other waterways of North America, carrying a bucket of water, to bring awareness to the need to protect the waters from pollution.
I knew Grandma Josephine for 25 years. When the question was asked, “What will you do for the water?,” she didn’t hesitate. She was ready to get the message out to everyone. She didn’t think about race or ethnicity. She took our teachings of the water and set out to do her work. She set out to educate, to pray, and to send a message of how important it is that everyone has clean water.”
JoAnne Cook is vice chair of FLOW’s Board of Directors and a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. She is from Peshawbestown, Michigan.