We Only Protect What We Care About

Posted by Lori Walsh on
www.nibiwalk.org

Sharon Day spends her days in ceremony. She joined In the Moment to talk about the Nibi (Water) Walks. These are indigenous-led, extended ceremonies to pray for water. Day is currently walking along the Missouri River, serving as witness and as daily reminder that “We are the river.”

The women carry water from the river’s source, cradled in a copper vessel. They will pour this purest of water into a point downstream, reminding the River who she once was.

I was transported by Day’s call to build a prayerful relationship with water.

Then there was the moment when Sharon Day said, “We only protect what we care about.” This truth resonates, and for a moment I imagined the ripples of those words flowing beyond a simple radio conversation and into the world beyond.

What do you protect? What do you care about? What does this truth say about how we prepare our meals, listen to our children, care for our own bodies and spirits? Who were you once, and who have you become? How can we return to the purest source of ourselves?

Sharon Day left me with much to contemplate. I hope the conversation serves you as well.

Below is an edited version of this conversation. If you would like to listen to it in its entirety, click here.

Lori Walsh:

A group of indigenous women are living their days in extended ceremony as part of a commitment to praying for the waters of the Missouri river. It's an opportunity to witness, to learn, and to build a prayerful relationship with water. Sharon Day heads the indigenous people's task force.  Sharon, the music that we just heard is a water song, tell me a little more about that.

 

Sharon Day:

It was a song that came to me on the Ohio River water walk, and what it says in Ojibwa is, "We walked through the water, sacred water."

Lori Walsh:

Tell me little bit about your overall journey now with the Missouri ... Where are you at now, where are you going, where have you been?

Sharon Day:

Well, we began on August 1st in Three Forks, Montana, and today we are just a couple miles West of Springfield in South Dakota.

Lori Walsh:

And where are you headed, what's ahead for you?

Sharon Day:

Well, we're headed continuing downstream, and we expect to be at the Ch'an points near St. Louis, Missouri around September 26th or 27th.

Lori Walsh:

So, let's go to Shoshanna for a minute. Tell me what are your days like? Walk me through the process of this sort of extended ceremony.

Shoshanna:

Well, we start early in the morning, sometimes before the sun comes out, and we start where we had touched down the previous day before, and then we sing our Nibi song, and the first walker takes off walking and we take turns in relay. While we're walking every step is a prayer, and we pray about our ... for our families, for our future generation, and for all people.

Lori Walsh:

Is this something, Sharon, that you're in conversation during the walk? Are you silent during the walk? What does that look like from the outside?

Sharon Day:

I asked the walkers to be silent when they're walking, so that they can offer prayers, but it's more of a walking meditation, and we're sending ... in a, what we say in that Nibi song is, "Water we love you. We thank you. We respect you." And, so we begin our day singing that song, and as we walk that is the message that we're sending to the Missouri River, "We love you. We thank you. We respect you", because without water there would be no life.

Lori Walsh:

Are you carrying water with you, Sharon, are you within eyesight of the water? How do you stay physically connected to the river along the journey?

Sharon Day:

Well, partly, we are the river because we've been drinking the Missouri River water since we began, and, but we do carry the water that we've collected that day at the headwaters in a copper vessel, and then it's covered and on top of the handle is a GPS that follows us as we walk. So, we can't physically be next to the river, although we're fairly close to the river today, but at the moment we can't see her. But, we have the river with us in the copper vessel. So, it does require some discipline. Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and of course physically to do these walks, especially these walks that are such an extended period of time.

Things still happen in the world. We're aware of the hurricane in Florida, we're aware of ... we walk through three hundred thousand acres of burned prairie and Montana. So, we're aware of things that are happening in the world, and also within our personal lives. You know, there are tragedies that occur, and you know, so we think about these things that are happening both in the world and also things that are happening within our own personal lives, but always coming back to this thought that we have to the water spirit, "We love you. We thank you. We respect you."

Lori Walsh:

Shoshanna, how do you prepare for the physicality of the journey and how do you prepare spiritually?

Shoshanna:

Well, you know, with how I live I always am praying spiritually, and to prepare myself physically, you know, take walks every day and drink plenty of water to flush my system, and, like you said you just pray every single day.

Lori Walsh:

Sharon, other rivers, other communities you've these sort of walks? Other places? Tell me about that.

Sharon Day:

Well, this is the fourteenth walk that I've led and so we've walked the Mississippi river, the Ohio, the James river in Virginia, Cuyahoga. We've walked in smaller rivers as well, the Minnesota river in Minnesota. We tried to focus on the rivers that are dealing with immediate threats, and that are the Ohio's ... and one of the biggest polluters, the Mississippi river. So, we try to focus on those areas where we believe that there is an imminent threat, and ongoing pollution to those rivers.

And, what our reasoning is, is that when we as humans come into the world, you know, we only have gifts. Every baby, it will get argued that every baby is sacred. And is only gifts. But, as humans we trade some of these gifts for other things as we age. But, the river, you know, comes into the world pure and sacred as well, but it's we humans who pollute her. So, when we gather that water at the headwaters, you know it's coming out of the earth and it's fairly clean there, and we carry that clean water to the mouth of the river, in this case the Confluence of the Mississippi, and we give the river a little taste of herself, and we tell her, you know, this is how you began and this is how we wish for you to be again.

Lori Walsh:

What's that moment like for you? That's gotta be pretty powerful.

Sharon Day:

Well, I tell you yesterday there were some young women from, near Marty, South Dakota who came on horseback, and we gave over the water for them to carry on horseback for a while, and that moment when I handed them our water was ... it was as though you're handing this infant over to somebody else, and trusting that they will take care of it and get it to where it's going, and so, there is that moment, and I think that when we pour that water into the headwaters there is always some feeling of sadness because you've been with that water for so long and you've protected it and taken care of it.

You know it's like when my grandson went away to school, to college, you know he kept saying, "Gram, when you drop me off, don't cry." And then, you know his mother called after I'd only gotten about a block away and of course I cried. And, but you know that's the way it's supposed to be, that was what you intended on doing, and now it's time to give it back to the river. But there is that feeling of ... You know it is quite overwhelming.

Lori Walsh:

Shoshanna, are you able to have conversations with people in the river towns along the way? Are there conversations you're having with people who ask you what you're doing? What are you learning?

Shoshanna:

Yes, we have people that stop us as we're walking alongside of the road, and they ask you, "What are you doing?", and we tell them, "We're praying for the water", or "We're walking for the water, for our future generations." Only those though is that are, you know, that are interested to see what we're doing or what we're carrying we have those conversations with.

Lori Walsh:

Sharon, is there ever a time that you're on the water? Do you spend any time sort of water bound?

Sharon Day:

Sometimes. Some rivers where it's been too dangerous to walk, and certain mountain areas we raft it, or moved it by canoe. Right now we're working on creating this floating lodge that will be powered by pedals.

And, we hope to do that when we got to Sioux City, but it's not quite, it hasn't been perfected yet. So, at some point we will do that.

Lori Walsh:

What impacts on the river itself are you seeing, Sharon? Are there things that you, is it all things that you sort of expected to see or have there been surprises as you did this walk?

Sharon Day:

No, it's pretty much the same across the United States. In some places its, you know, there's more devastation, but I think one of the biggest causes of pollution to the waterways right now is agriculture. Every minute of every day we have runoff from agriculture going into streams, tributaries, and then ultimately into Missouri and then into the Mississippi, and then into the Gulf, where, you know when the Mississippi reaches the Gulf of Mexico there's a dead zone because the water's been so depleted of oxygen.

Lori Walsh:

If you're just tuning in we're talking with Sharon and Shoshanna and they're doing a walk, which is an extended ... they're spending their days in extended ceremony as part of this commitment to pray for the waters of the Missouri river. You can find more about their journey at nibiwalk.org, that's NIBAwalk.org. And, Sharon, I'm wondering if other people can come along? Is this a female thing? Is this a Native American thing only? What's your outreach look like?

Sharon Day:

No, we have just about everybody walk with us at some point. Men carry the eagle feather staff, women carry the water. If there are no men present, like today, women can do both. And, but women only carry the water, and today we have six of us that are walking with us today. Two are European descent, and the rest of us are various Ojibwa, Dakota, and Lakota, and as we've gone through, you know traveled communities people have come out and joined us. When we get to Sioux City, Iowa, there's a group of students that will join us. People come out from the Twin Cities and as we proceed on down we have contacts with people at Columbia University. A lot of different people come and join us, and just to carry that water for a little ways, I've seen people cry when they carry that. It's just a deep connection to the water, like you said ...

Lori Walsh:

What does that say to you, that moment when somebody who ... Is that a connection that they've lost? Is that something that surprises them? What does it mean to you when someone sort of carries that water and ends up becoming emotional quickly?

Sharon Day:

I think that it's a reconnection, right? Because, you know we're born in water, we live in water for the first nine months and come into the world in this gush of water. But, you know when I was a kid I had to carry the water ... First thing we did in the morning, first thing we did at night. Went to the well and gathered water, and as you know we've become more ... technology, you know ... all you have to do is turn on the faucet, and so, we sort of take it for granted.

So, when you're in this prayer, and you're carrying the water it is a spiritual experience for people. And, so I think helping people to make that reconnection and to move forward in the spirit of love ... You know, I tell folks that, "This is not a protest." I spent my whole life protesting, and I do believe that there are times when we need to speak out. The whole DACA thing, we all need to say something about ... We need to be concerned about social justice, and so we need to step up and speak out about those things. But, this walk is a movement forward and bringing as many people as we can in the spirit of love, because, ultimately ... We only protect that which we care about, and we should all care about the water.

Lori Walsh:

Give me an idea of a takeaway for the rest of us: people who are listening now in their cars or at work, they're not out there taking this walk. What do you want to say to them, Sharon?

Sharon Day:

I would say, you know the next time you have a glass of water, try saying thank you to that glass of water and think about maybe three simple things that you can do to protect some of our water. You can conserve water, there are so many ways that we can do that. You know, we can use water more than once. But, more importantly, we can be grateful and really try to see it as this living entity, and if we could treat the water with love and respect we might be able to treat each other that way as well.

 

 

 

 

 

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