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Perth students join together to advocate for clean drinking water in Canada

Photo submitted by UCDSB

An initiative to raise awareness of the issue of clean drinking water in Canada started by students at Perth’s The Queen Elizabeth School (QES) in 2023 evolved into something a little bigger this year.

For the second annual ‘Walk for Water’, two Perth-area schools joined together in support of the cause.

Last year, Grade 2/3 students at QES learned about the advocacy work of Anishinaabe Indigenous rights champion Autumn Peltier. Peltier’s mission to ensure safe drinking water on all Canadian reserves struck a chord with the students. This year, it was the Grade 6 students at QES who spearheaded a larger event, bringing together both QES and The Stewart School.

“Leading up to this day we discussed some of the hard truths as we continued to learn about the conditions on reserves and what Indigenous communities face in lack of access to clean water,” said QES Grade 6 teacher Alaina Tanner.

She noted that “the Grade 6 class was inspired by the 2/3’s, and feel this project is so important that they wanted to keep it going.”

On April 24, approximately 600 students ranging from senior kindergarten to Grade 6 marched from their respective schools to Stewart Park. There, they participated in a water ceremony, received blessings, and enjoyed drumming by Danka Brewer, a cultural advisor from the Upper Canada District School Board, and an Anishinaabe Knowledge Keeper from Shabot Obaadjiwaan First Nation.

The aim of the Walk for Water event is to shed light on the critical need for clean water for all living beings, emphasizing its significance for the planet’s health and particularly for Indigenous communities grappling with boil water advisories across Canada.

“I believe that this teaches, in a positive, non-structural way, about cultural appropriation and it helps to build bridges of understanding between the native and non-native students in the school,” Brewer stated in a media release.

Brewer engaged with the students, imparting wisdom on water conservation and sharing the traditional Algonquin perspective on the vital role of water, particularly the roles of women as water carriers within the community. She also led the students in singing Nibi Wabo, The Water Blessing Song.

QES student Emily Tanner noted that “it was really inspiring to continue the project and it’s amazing to see it continue to grow and we hope we can continue to do it next year.”

Students are now planning a fundraiser, which includes selling T-shirts, new water bottle sticker designs, and collecting donations in person. The proceeds will benefit the Dreamcatcher Charitable Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting various facets of Indigenous youth development, including supplying temporary clean drinking water solutions for Indigenous communities.

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