World Water Day: Jimelda Johnston Speaks Out For Mother Earth

Stories and photographs by Danny Beaton Turtle Clan, Mohawk Nation

We first met in Cape Croker in 1990 during the Gathering of Elders for Bedehbun; Tom Porter was there, the late John Mohawk, Jim Dumont, Albert Lightning, that beautiful Mohawk woman with the white hair, Ann Jock, Basil Johnston, Leonora Keeshig, and so many more. That was awesome and a beautiful experience in the Cape. Wilmer is still here and he is over 86 years old now. Wilmer is one of the few who are left. I was born and raised in Cape Croker. My mom is Delina Keeshig, my dad is Orville Johnston. My parents were born in Cape Croker by the Georgian Bay. They were both very active community people; they wanted us to be raised on the reserve because they wanted us to have that sense of belonging and the sense of ownership. My dad was a fisherman but he also worked as a policeman, as a peacekeeper, for about 20 years; he was a war veteran and a professional boxer. It helped with us, by teaching his kids how to protect themselves.

Danny, I think one of the silver threads to who I am and everything I’ve been involved in is my past growing up with the land and on the land. The healing that the land has given us, growing up as children even though there were bad experiences too. We had the land, we were always out in the water, we were always in the bush which my dad believed was our church, he really made our freedom available to us. A lot of outings, a lot of days in the bush using rocks for our plates, catching crabs, going fishing, riding home at night on a bed of cedar boughs, the smell of the cedar I remember that. Only to find out later as I grew up it was one of our sacred medicines. Then learning how to use that medicine in different ways. We had a lot of apple trees, we would leave in the morning go out and our parents didn’t worry about us. We knew where all the good apple trees were, we knew where all the best spots to pick berries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, there was such a feeling of freedom, I guess the spirit of freedom that I had, that feeling I had as a child growing up on a reserve was reality and is a memory in the history of my people. They took us fishing all the time, they told us fishing stories all the time, how every family used to go out every night and there would be a hundred boats out there, you could go out on the dock and see the horizon at night, was spectacular with our people out there in their boats. Wilmer Nadjiwon knows all the stories, he still tells them, he still reminds me of the way it used to be.

We had a healthy diet; I remember the best dish I ever had was my grandmother’s fish pie, it was a treat. We always had the best fish soup, I remember the old people coming to our house to eat fish heads. All parts of our fish were a delicacy, when we would get together the way we would eat them fish was delicious, our people made the feast look succulent the way they ate it up. I learned a lot just sitting with my people listening to the stories of the reserves from the elders how hard the struggles were.

I remember talking to a woman last night about peeking downstairs when I was young and seeing the men in the kitchen late in the middle of the morning and they would be cutting up a deer because it was illegal to hunt at times when we were hungry. The government had programs to control us and the animals. So we had to hunt in secret, we had to cut up our deer at night in secret so we wouldn’t be caught by government agents. We had to live in secret sometimes but it was worth it, our food was delicious. Times were tough but we could always go hunting and fishing, we never went hungry, people shared food, there was always plenty. People knew when others were having a hard time so there was sharing and support going on in the community. It’s not there today.

I was born in 1955 and I have seen how things have changed, there’s a lot of brokenness. There’s a lot of healing that needs to happen. Knowing how sacred Cape Croker is to indigenous people around the Great Lakes, at one time it was a healing place. There is a water spirit in Georgian Bay, that’s why we make offerings and do ceremonies. There were some anthropologists who came here and did some studies and told us Cape Croker is over 3,000 years old and it has been a gathering place for that long. We as Ojibway and Chippewa people need to establish a relationship by making offerings to the spirit of the water in a big way because of all the abuse the water has seen. This will help us in the future by working hard for this relationship with Mother Earth’s Blood. We need to take our old songs that were sung and sing them in a way that our ancestors will hear them and help us to bring the land back to the way it was and revive the water to the way it was for our ancestors. We need to heal the water so that the water can heal us. There are signs today about how valid our way of life was, how life giving our culture was in a healing way. Our songs worked in balance, in harmony, in rhythm with the sacred elements. We were in harmonious motion and relationship with the universe for thousands of years evolving with the four seasons. I find that our community are relationship people and everything around us we have a relationship with. The Earth, the Fire, the Air that we breathe that carries everything that is in energy that we work with and Mother Earth’s Blood, the Sacred water that we drink.

The Water is not like it used to be, they are putting fish in the water that are alien to the environment and these alien fish are destroying all the indigenous fish life. There are toxins in the Bay, four feet high in some places from fish farming. There is a lot of waste being created now from mismanagement; waste kills everything; waste kills life. Christian Island, Perry Island, Midland, Penetanguishene, Cape Croker, Wiki, that is our whole fishing area and it has been for thousands of years for all our Indian people and all the nations of our people living there, it is a biosphere. Our people have been struggling hard to educate Canada about the sacredness of the Great Lakes, Georgian Bay and Mother Earth ever since they brought mailboxes to our communities and Ontario Hydro started sending us all these bills to pay up while we live on our own territories. Ontario Hydro has been sending us bills ever since they came on to our land. How is that right? No one is conscious of our water at Ontario Hydro; there is no respect. We are surrounded by water and now we are surrounded by nuclear power plants, fish farms and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, they are stalking fish in Midland and Penetanguishene; the toxins from the fertilizers are never removed that is another impact on the water. How effective are these treatment plants, Danny, we are watching activities going on which are really criminal to life.

Our communities are boiling water up north and you can see pollution contamination in our creeks all over our territories especially in the past twenty years, when is it going to stop?

Our people are trying to bring awareness to the world but sometimes the work goes slow and changes don’t happen as fast as they should. We need to work together because we don’t have time anymore, because there is so much to clean up from pollution. That means if things aren’t cleaned up our children will not have quality water to drink.

Our songs will help the water. We need to be singing more to the water. We have proof that sounds help and heal water which is something our people had in songs. The vibration of the music and song I connected to our Creation Story, the Rattle represents the first movement of the water, the first beginning with sound and how all things lined up and began to take form. Our Ceremonies represent the vibration of creation, the Drum touches so many people and brings us back to that first movement. It’s a beautiful feeling just listening.

All My Relations.