Women of the World: Sing the Algonquin Water Song

by Susan Hoffman Fishman

I recently came across a 2018 YouTube video entitled, Sing the Water Song. Its inspiring message and plea for women everywhere to become Keepers of the Water so as to express gratitude for and bring attention to our endangered waters, has prompted me to share the video/song with the readers of this blog.

History of the Algonquin Water Song

In 2002 Grandfather William Commanda, an Algonquin Elder, asked Irene Wawatie Jerome, an Anshinabe/Cree, to create a song that women attending the Circle of All Nations Gathering at Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg near Maniwaki, Quebec could learn and then spread throughout the world. As the history section of the song’s website explains:

Our water is under siege from pollution, climate change, mismanagement and corporate environmental disaster. Without clean water, we cannot live. In Native American, and many other Indigenous cultures, women are the Keepers of the Water, and men are the Keepers of Fire. In recent months, many brave women who are Water Protectors have captured the attention of the world whether at Standing Rock, attempting to stop the pipelines, or Flint, Michigan, demanding clean water for their children, or ever-increasing battlegrounds of environmental disaster. The Elders have understood since the beginning of time that clean water is essential for the survival of all living beings, and they continue to fight for Mother Earth’s most precious resource. Now, they are asking women to join them for one minute a day to sing to the water. It is incumbent for all of us, especially the women, to help them raise awareness and protect the water for future generations.

At the 2004 gathering on the grounds of Grandfather William Commanda’s retreat at the Kitigan Zibi Reserve, Grandmother Louise Wawatie taught The Water Song to Grandmother Nancy Andry and other women from seventeen countries around the world. There, Grandmother Andry was tasked with spreading its message everywhere. And so, for over sixteen years, she has been teaching The Water Song wherever she has traveled.

Of Algonquin and French heritage, Grandmother Nancy is recognized as a Sundancer and Sacred Pipe Carrier, an Elder and a Grandmother. She is also a storyteller who shares Native legends in schools, health centers and at pow wows. In the past, Grandmother Nancy was a facilitator for 17 years of a Native Women’s Circle in a federal prison as well as a member of the staff of the Joined Nations of Connecticut, an organization for young people of Native heritage. Most recently she owned and operated an equestrian business in Connecticut and is now using Horse Medicine at lectures on Native culture.

The Video

Sing the Water Song video

In 2017, as she saw the increase in fracking, the draining of aquifers and more and more destruction of the waters, Grandmother Nancy approached the Elders with the idea of producing a video that could be distributed through social media and reach a much broader audience. With the Elder’s approval as well as permission to use the song from the Wawatie and Commanda families, Grandmother facilitated the creation of the 2018 Sing the Water Song video.

As Grandmother Nancy explained, the women and girls portrayed in the video come from “all four continents” and include June Sun, a Buddhist nun from Japan, a Nigerian woman, a group of Lenni Lenapi 10 year-olds and Grandmother Nancy herself, who is 83. The video also features Grandmother Clara Soaring Hawk, the Deer Clan Chief of the Ramapough-Lenape and her granddaughter as well as Grandmother Margaret Behan, an Arapahoe-Cheyenne, fourth generation of the Sand Creek Massacre.

1527783722742-1.jpeg
Grandmother Nancy Andry. Still image from Sing The Water Song video.

The Podcast

Grandmother Nancy was interviewed in 2018 by Judith Dreyer for her podcast The Holistic Nature of UsDreyer has featured a broad range of guests who are “deeply concerned about the environmental issues of our time.” During the interview, Grandmother Nancy explained the purpose of the video and pleaded for action. Here is a sample of her heartfelt and powerful words from the podcast:

So, our only intent with this video is to get that song out for the women to pray every day for the water and to see that when this happens there are actually healings. Not only for the water, but for the women themselves who sing this song every day it’s, you know it’s magical and it’s almost hard to explain it because we are living in an era where we no longer believe in magical powers and they’re out there…

You know the words to the song literally mean, water is the life’s blood of Mother Earth, water is the life’s blood of our own body. And what this song and what so many activists, I mean environmental activists, it’s a call to sacred activism really. And you know people say, oh I’m just one person I can’t do anything. That’s not true because if every one person did something, it would be so amazing. We’re seeing that particularly with the youth’s march, with this young girl from Sweden who is up for a Nobel Peace Prize.

And you know, what we need to fight is the privatization of water. I refuse to buy water in a bottle. I’m very fortunate that I have good drinking water here in my house and I understand that some people don’t and have no choice but to buy bottled water. But can you imagine, I think a bottle of water probably costs $1.25, $1.50 – I don’t know because I don’t buy it. Imagine if that bottle of water was $20 or $30 because if the supply is dwindling and it won’t be accessible, can you imagine the loss of human life?

We’ve already seen it with animal species when dolphins are washing up on the shores of France and what have you. So how can we do this? Well first of all ladies out there please sing the water song. Teach it to your daughters, to your daughter’s friends because we’re stealing from our children. Every time we destroy another piece of Mother Earth we’re stealing from our children. There are species of animals, birds, plants that our grandchildren will never see because they’ve gone. They’re simply gone. It has to stop – the madness has to stop. And we do have to turn to different alternatives, get away from fossil fuels. Wind power, solar power, there are so many options out there, but you see the 1% money-making, greedy people, they are so shortsighted. Don’t they understand that when the water is gone, their money won’t buy them the water either. I mean you wonder where their heads are sometimes and they’re stealing from their grandchildren.

Sing the Algonquin Water Song

So, women of the world, here are the instructions and phonetic lyrics for singing The Algonquin Water Song. Have a go.

Sing four times, each time facing one of the four directions in this order: East, South, West, North.

Nee bee wah bow
En die en
Aah key mis kquee
Nee bee wah bow
Hey ya hey ya hey ya hey
Hey ya hey ya hey ya ho

(Top image, left to right: Grandmothers Nancy Andry, Margaret Behan and Clara Soaring Hawk. Still image from Sing The Water Song video.)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are appearing in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

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Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist, writer, and educator whose work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Her latest bodies of work focus on the threat of rising tides, our new plastic seas and the wars that are predicted to occur in the future over access to clean water. She is also the co-creator of two interactive public art projects: The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and Home, which calls attention to homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in our cities and towns.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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