Led by Ojibwe elder and veteran Water Walker Sharon Day, a group of indigenous women and other supporters are on the last stretch of a week-long, 250-mile Water Walk along the MNiSota (Minnesota) River, which they began at Big Stone Lake in Ortonville, Minnesota on Friday March 25.
They plan to arrive at Pike Island in Fort Snelling State Park in Minneapolis on April 1 at 4 p.m., where the Minnesota River empties into the Mississippi. Before setting out, they gathered water at the lake and will hold ceremonies as they pour the sacred elixir into the Mississippi River. It’s an effort to both call attention to river contamination and “honor the water as a living being,” the organizers said in a statement.
“The Walks are extended ceremonies for the water led by Indigenous Peoples,” said Day, who has led a number of Water Walks along the Mississippi, Ohio, St. Louis, Cuyahoga and James rivers. “We believe the water has a spirit and is a living entity that we, humans, have been gifted with to love and cherish.”
The Minnesota River’s original name in Dakota was Cloudy Tinted Waters and was carved out thousands of years ago by glaciers, according to the walk’s organizers. Of deep historical and cultural significance to the Dakota, the Minnesota is one of the most polluted in the state as well as the U.S. The Mississippi River gets 57 percent of its volume from the Minnesota, the organizers said.
Recent improvements in pollution levels have not been enough to take the river out of danger, as evidenced by a do-not-swim advisory issued last summer, when authorities advised the public against swimming in any of the lakes or rivers in southwestern Minnesota. This led Day to choose the MNiSota River to walk along this time, the organizers said.
“Water Walks respect the truth that water is a life giver, and because women also give life they are the keepers of the water,” the organizers say on their website, Nibi Walk. “In the Anishinaabe religion, prophecies were given before contact with light-skinned people. The prophecies state that when the world has been befouled and the waters turned bitter by disrespect, human beings will have two options to choose from: materialism or spirituality. If they chose spirituality, they would survive, but if they chose materialism, that choice would be the end of humanity.”