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Honoring Water 150 Miles The Chippewa River Water Walk

1.20b V40 #8 Photos Chippewa11149443_10205905303448885_934344166686270152_nBy Joe Kruse

In the Midewiwin belief system, the indigenous spiritual practice of the Ojibway people, there are eight prophecies that have come and are coming to pass. The prophecies take into account the migration of the Ojibway people from the east to the upper Midwest where food (manoomin/wild rice) grows on water, the invasion of the light-skinned race, and the struggle for survival among and resistance to that colonization. Bode, a long-time water walker, and I sat in a minivan watching other walkers hike along a beautiful stretch of a rural county road as he explained this part of his spirituality to me. The rain was lightly misting our windshield. He went on to describe the eighth and final prophecy, when people of all skin colors will live in harmony. He said that, on these walks, he has started to see this prophecy fulfilled. He has seen white people, Native people, and people of color work together to pray for the water and our future. He sees how, while we are praying for the healing of the water, the water seems to be healing us.

This is just one of the many beautiful lessons I had the privilege of learning while I participated in the Chippewa River Water Walk this past April. “The Nibi (Water) Walks are Indigenous-led, extended ceremonies to pray for the water. Every step is taken in prayer and gratitude for water, our life giving force” (nibiwalk.org). Led by Ojibway elder Sharon Day and began by a group of Ojibway grandmothers about a decade ago, these walks are both a spiritual practice of walking as a means of praying for the water and our relationship to it, and a political act of cultivating awareness around the continued violent exploitation and colonization of Turtle Island.

Our walk began at the beginning of the Chippewa River in New Post, WI. Here we held a pipe ceremony and filled a copper pail with water from the beginning of river. That water would be transported downstream by the walkers until we arrived in Wabasha, MN a week later, at the end of Chippewa River. Then, amidst several beautiful ceremonies, the water is poured back into its source. The walk was organized like a kind of relay. The pail of water was passed to a new walker about every mile. Because in the Midewiwin tradition women are typically the protectors and caretakers of the water, only women could carry the water. Men were able to follow behind the women and carried a beautiful eagle staff. The staff and the eagle symbolize protection and a “caring for,” in this case, the walker and the water. Women were also able to carry the eagle staff if no men were present or walking, or the women with the water could carry both the staff and the pail.

The core group of walkers who did the whole 150 miles of the Chippewa was mostly Ojibway people. There were three white people among our core group, of which I was one. For me the most stirring and heart-rending part of the walk was being so lovingly welcomed into a ceremony and tradition that were not only not my own, but that come from a people’s spirituality my ancestors worked hard to exterminate and forcibly Christianize. However, it was clear that I was being welcomed and invited into participating in another group’s distinct spiritual tradition and was definitely not Midewiwin for the week (nor could I ever be, because I am white). Sharon and the other Ojibway leaders and elders on our walk struck a beautiful balance between welcoming white walkers into the space while simultaneously acknowledging important historical and cultural differences. It was so powerful to be around Native people who concurrently acknowledged and critiqued the history and systems that create and maintain my white privilege, while also allowing me to play important roles in their cultural ceremonies.

I was a daily recipient of ongoing, compassionate, and unconditional inclusion and love. It was demonstrated to me so beautifully what should be the absolute most important facet of my Christian faith. This experience of hospitality and embrace is something I will never forget, and has become for me a way in which the water has helped to heal my soul.

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