Water is a living, life-giving entity––and rivers, constant though ever changing, carry the spiritual essence of the resource eco-systems and communities where we all benefit from its sacred sustenance.

Water is a living, life-giving entity––and rivers, constant though ever changing, carry the spiritual essence of the resource eco-systems and communities where we all benefit from its sacred sustenance.

This past Easter Sunday, a group of Indigenous women and their supporters passed through Granite Falls during a 330-plus mile MNiSota River (cloudy tinted waters to the Dakota) Walk organized to honor this life giving spirit of the living waters and incite activity that caters to this sacred relationship.

“Our goal is to be supportive of the scientists and environmentalists and the work they do, but we also recognized that what’s missing from those discussion is the belief that water is a living entity,”  said 64-year-old Ojibwe elder and event organizer Sharon Day. “It’s not just H2O. It is the source of all life and the water spirits hear us, they listen to us.”

Day and her counterparts started their journey this past Friday filling a copper vessel at Big Stone Lake, which they will carry over the duration of their trek until their arrival Minnesota River’s confluence with the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling on April 1.

With the support of Dakota members of the Upper and Lower Sioux communities; volunteers from organizations such as Clean Up our River Environment and the Land Stewardship Project; as well as other area individuals, Day arrived with a growing list, now up to 30, of those who would partake in the walk.

Why the Minnesota?
Day said she chose the Minnesota River for this year’s walk after reading about studies identifying the impairment of waters throughout southwestern Minnesota, but her advocacy for rivers goes back much further than that.

Day first became involved with water efforts when, in the late 1990s, she worked alongside others to protect the Coldwater Spring from the widening of Minnesota Highway 55 in the Twin Cities, a site where dakota people believe they came into the world.

After the controversial project went forward, Day was incited to do more. In 2013, she was one of only six who completed the entire 1,700 mile walk the length of the Mississippi River and in the subsequent years she would walk the St, Louis and the Ohio Rivers after recognizing their contribution to the Mississipi River as a whole.

“Last year we were walking the Chippewa River, when of the walkers said: What about the Minnesota River?” said Day. “And then last summer when news report came out about and rivers and lakes not being swimmable that this year will be the year of the Minnesota.”

Day said that after electing to walk the Minnesota River, she travelled back to the area about a year ago and placed tobacco in the River at Big Stone Lake at which she, “told the river that our intentions were going to walk this river walk and sing and pray for the water this spring.”

Since then, Day said she was  back three or four times holding workshops and making contacts in preparation for the walk.

As of Saturday, the walkers reached the dike road just before Granite Falls. There they created a circle and placed tobacco in a sacred gesture, marking the location where they would resume their walk the next morning.

Those spots where we placed those signals... the earth knows we did something in honoring the earth,” said Day. “Where we stopped before Granite Falls there were horses and when we were singing those horses came and they were dancing, and not many people noticed but at the same time an eagle came.

The animals, even they can recognize something sacred happening. But the humans they just zoom past it,” she continued. “We’re so removed from the natural world.”
During the evening, walkers were housed and treated to dinner by the Upper Sioux Community.

Just the beginning
Upon her intended arrival at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers this Friday, Day said that she expects the number of walkers to continue to increase, while scores are expected to be present to celebrate the completion of the walk––which is also just a beginning.

 I like to think of the walk as the beginning and then we like to encourage our walkers by asking: Now what are you going to do next? What are you going to day to day?

“Every Sunday we encourage walkers: Go down to the water that’s nearest you. Put your tobacco down and say, thank you. Thank you to that which gives us life.”
As for herself, “Next I would really like to work with children, said Day. “I came up carrying water, and when you have to melt water everyday in a galvanized tub on stove––you have a relationship with the water. When you harvest wild rice you have a relationship to the water. And when you grow blueberries and your own food you have a relationship.”

Day said science is now able to show us the positive and profound impact of even just placing your hands in good healthy soil, which she said is so potent it can even change your DNA.  

“When you grow your own food and put your hands in the soil there is an exchange that happens between you and the earth,” she said. “You see little kids playing in the dirt and they have this relationship and then we teach that out of them.”

At the center...
With spiritual work being so subtle its not always to the see impact and value of work such as Days. And, yet, interestingly emerging all along the Minnesota River Valley, are efforts to revitalize the state’s namesake river.

From the long-time impacts made by the Land Stewardship Project, Clean Up the River Environment and even the Meander Art Crawl, to more recent efforts such as the Governor’s Water Summit and the launching of the Minnesota River Congress on March 10, change is happening.

And what’s more, with its location at the mid-point of the Minnesota River, Granite Falls is uniquely situated to play a roll in such developments––as the 2013 removal of Minnesota Falls has served as a precursor to the potential reconnection of the river––creating over 300 miles of contiguous river––with installation of a fish ladder and perhaps the state’s first whitewater park.

In December of 2015 a $20,000 reconnaissance study stated indicated that the community had substantial benefits to gain by moving forward as such, and just this past week the Granite Falls EDA entered into a contract Minnesota State University, Mankato to undertake an economic analysis of potentials.

“It’s a start. A start that needs to be at the center of all of our work, said Day of the river walk. “That spiritual source needs to be at the center and the motivation for all we do. If we can do that, then we truly can change the world.”