(Image from here via FB)
Walking for water
Posted: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 8:25 am | Updated: 9:06 am, Wed Mar 6, 2013.
“We are of the water and are water - it is essential to our continued existence,” says Sharon Day, of St. Paul.
Day is coordinating Mississippi River Water Walk 2013 to draw attention to overwhelming water pollution problems in the United States.
In traditional Ojibwe culture and philosophy, women are the caretakers of the water who have been responsible for praying for the water, honoring the water and thanking the water in ceremony, “from the beginning of time,” explained Day who is part of a group of American Indian women hoping to inspire citizens and policy makers to take action to improve the health of the great river.
“We want the walk to be a prayer,” she said. “Every step we take we will be praying for and thinking of the water. The water has given us life and now, we will support the water.”
Day was in Grand Rapids with fellow walkers on Monday when they stopped by the American Indian Services classroom at Grand Rapids High School.
The group started on March 1 at the Mississippi Headwaters at Itasca State Park.
“At the headwaters, the river is so beautiful. You can clearly see the bottom,” Day described.
The walkers were inclined to drink directly from the clean waters of the river’s commencement - something Day said would never happen in the southern part of the state where in just about 150 miles from the headwaters the river shows signs of pollution.
“We are carrying the pure, clean water form the headwaters to the Gulf where there are huge dead zones (where the water is nearly depleted of oxygen),” she explained.
The Mississippi River has become the second most-polluted waterway in the U.S., as toxic chemicals from municipalities, farms and corporations take their toll on the river. According to a survey by the organization Environment America, in 2010, the river received a total of 12,739,749 pounds of toxic discharge from 10 states that border the waterway.
“When you think of the Mississippi and how many states, aquifers and other water bodies or rivers are connected with it - it is a major artery on Mother Earth,” said Day. “So what happens when an artery on a human is plugged?
“No matter how much gold and silver we have - it doesn’t matter because we can’t drink gold or silver. We’re doing this for our children’s children and their children’s children and their children’s children.”
The walk is expected to be a two-month journey. The group is carrying the water from the headwaters in a copper pail because copper is sacred to the Ojibwe people. The pail will never stop until sundown, then will move again in the morning. It is protected by an eagle staff.
In 2011, the Mother Earth Water Walk brought ocean water from four directions to Lake Superior. Ira Johnson, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, was part of the group that brought the northeast water from Churchill, Manitoba. He is taking part in this year’s water walk “for his family and the other people who can’t be here from my hometown.”
The only non-indigenous walker to be with the group who stopped in Grand Rapids, Marya Bradley, lives near Philadelphia, Penn. She said she feels deeply pained by the harm that non-indigenous people have done to the land. She views the walk as a powerful endeavor she hopes will resonate to people, “so we can remember we’re all a part of water.”
Besides the water, Bradley is carrying prayers for healing from those who provided her support to participate in the walk.
“We’re praying for healing for all living creatures who are hurting,” she said.
Maryanna Harstad, of Minneapolis, was also a part of the 2011 walk, answering a call for people to join at certain points. She views it as a community experience, “with people coming and going.”
“I think about water all the time and how it also has a profound effect on my personally,” said Harstad. “At Lake Superior, I felt there was a reason I was there.”
For the first few legs of the walk, Day was joined by her grandson Deon Kirby, of St. Paul. The youngest walker, at 23, Kirby said he was participating to support his grandmother and explore his native culture.
“Because when you give something of yourself, you get good karma,” smiled Kirby.
The walkers initiating the 2013 Mississippi River Water Walk did not know each other before they met at the headwaters. A few people from the Grand Rapids area joined the walk at various points, including GRHS American Indian Services teacher Patty Jo Erven who walked with the group as they headed toward Aitkin.
“It’s amazing, the water really walks you,” commented Erven of the experience.
Day says they are always looking for more walkers. Those interested may call her at 651-325-8077 or through their facebook page, Mississippi River Water Walk 2013 where there is a map of the walk and photos. Anyone wishing to donate to the project, may send a check payable to “Water Walk,” in care Indigenous Peoples Task Force, 1335 East 23rd Street, Minneapolis, MN 55404.
Mississippi River Water Walk 2013 walkers pictured during a stop at Grand Rapids High School include, from left, Marya Bradley, Deon Kirby, Sharon Day, Ira Johnson and Maryanna Harstad.