Grandmother Josephine Mandamin

Grandmother Josephine Mandamin

Josephine Mandamin (Biidaasige-ba: The one who comes with the light)

  • Date of Birth: February 21, 1942, Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin Island
  • Date of Death: February 22, 2019
  • Accomplishments related to: Water activism, First Nations culture, Community leadership
  • Major affiliations: Beendigen Inc., Ontario Native Women's Association, Mother Earth Water Walk, Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic

Josephine Mandamin (born Josephine Henrietta Trudeau) was born February 21, 1942. Josephine is Odawa from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island. Josephine was the wife of Andrew Mandamin, and was blessed with five children, thirteen grandchildren and sixteen great grandchildren.

Josephine was a residential school survivor, having attended St. Joseph’s School for Girls in Spanish, Ontario from 1948–1954. St. Joseph’s School for Girls was affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and run by the Jesuits and the Daughters of the Heart of Mary and operated out of Spanish, Ontario from 1913–1965. Despite her experience with the residential school, she maintained her Anishinaabe identity and followed her traditional teachings.

Josephine moved to Thunder Bay with her husband and children in 1979. Her work in Thunder Bay spans over 40 years, as her life’s journey was to serve the public and help improve the lives of Indigenous people. This is recognized throughout her work history: She worked at Kashadaying residence, a residence for students from outlying First Nations communities, and Mino Bimaadiziwin, a group home for youth in conflict with mental health issues. She also served as Executive Director of Beendigen Inc. and Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA), finally retiring in 2006. 

In 2009, Josephine went back to school in Sault Ste. Marie to pursue post-secondary education, graduating from Algoma University and Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig with a bachelor’s degree in Anishinawbemowin in 2013. 

Throughout Josephine’s career and her life as a wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother, she remained dedicated to her community and sharing her experiences as an Anishnawbe-que. Josephine was a 4th Degree member of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge and member of its Grandmothers’ Council. She taught about language, culture, identity, and the need to honour and respect all things that the Creator has given to human kind.

Josephine shared the prophecy she received in the Three Fires Midewewin about the damage we are doing to the water, which is life, and that by the year 2030, a bottle of water would cost the same as an ounce of gold. She was also known for her work with the Mother Earth Water Walk, an event she and a group of Anishinaabe women started in 2003, which brings women from different clans together to raise awareness about water pollution and the sacredness of the water. The idea was to bring together people who share the same interest and protect our water from future pollution[1].

A children’s book called The Water Walker was written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson in 2017, available through Second Story Press to honour Josephine’s message and work. The book follows the story of Grandmother Josephine and her love for Nibi (water); it follows her walking journey with colorful illustrations and pronunciation guides for Anishinaabe words.

In 2012, Mandamin received the Anishinabek Nation Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2016 she received the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation. On January 26, 2018, Josephine was awarded the Governor General's Meritorious Service Decoration in recognition for her contributions to Indigenous leadership and reconciliation. She also received honors from the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Ontario Native Women's Association. In 2019, the Great Lakes Guardian Council honored Mandamin's water protection work.


Josephine Mandamin over a water container


Josephine Mandamin


Josephine Mandamin carrying a pail of water

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