October 10: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

October 10, 2022

Monday, October 10, 2022, is the second Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the US. Social justice organizations around the world are recognizing the harm of colonization and cultural genocide on Indigenous populations. My classes are tasked with reflection on what it means to belong to a place. How do we overcome othering and welcome the contributions of groups, nations, and regions around the people?

Today, I walk in the company of my bone, spirit, and land ancestors. I think about belonging through kinship and presence. Today, I am present to the water. It is the third day of a 92-mile People of the Heart Water Walk.

Nga-zhichige Nibi onji. When I get tired, when I have less sleep and more responsibilities, when it’s my turn to carry the water, I say, “I will do it for the water.” My t-shirt speaks our petition and commitment. My skirt flows so the land of Turtle Island recognizes me as a woman, a vessel for water. Water is life and women are the water bearers.

This is my fourth Water Walk, although I did different work for the water in 2020 because of Covid. Actually, I seem to do different yet similar work each year. I’m learning to go with the flow. We are communal organizers, working as a collective of women under the sacred teachings of the Anishinaabekwe from Keweenaw Bay. We walk through their Ceded Territory. The Keweenaw. My Rocky Spine.

For the first time, I wear a traditional ribbon skirt. My friend, writer, and quilt artist, Sue Spitulnik, designed and created the skirt with material we found in a quilt shop in Ithica, New York. She appliqued two chickadees over colorful ribbons. The joyful birds represent kinship and friendship; they express joy in totality. I feel uplifted, wearing my skirt, Water Walker t-shirt, and hiking boots.

This year, Finlandia University took on the role of feast hosts our first night. I’ve been talking about the walk to my students as we read the Fire Keeper’s Daughter. When I was asked to write something about the Water Walk to our Finlandia community, this is what I wrote:

The People of the Heart came together after the devastation of the Father’s Day Floods to form community around the sacredness of water. We don’t really have organizers, but we look to the Anishinaabekwe to guide us collectively in their teachings. We all do the work for the water, and like water, we flow where needed. The Water Walk is a sacred ceremony open to all faiths and people. Women lift and carry the water in a copper vessel from one point on the journey to the next. A Water Walk is the only time an Eagle Staff walks behind (the water). Men or women can carry the Eagle Staff; only women can carry the Water. Women wear skirts so the land recognizes us in our work. Nga-zhidchige nibi onji (I will do it for the water). Finlandia holding a feast, anyone donating or preparing food, all of this is part of doing the work for the Water.

Many social injustices center around Water and we walk to speak for the Water, for those harmed by toxins in the Water, for our Land Ancestors, and for those not yet born. Water is life.

The People of the Heart Water Walk takes place over a three-day weekend aligned with Indigenous People’s Day. In the beginning, IPD did not yet exist. We chose fall because we walk narrow, busy, and scenic byways that cut across Anishinaabe Ceded Territory, and traffic is lighter. We educate people along the route with the images of the attached brochure. We walk 92 miles in three days, passing off the vessel from one woman to the next. We walk in relay but the Water never stops until we bring it to a ceremonial close of the day (or, reach our final destination). We feast and rest with the communities living where we walk. Typically, we gather pre-dawn and start walking as the sun rises.

Anyone can join the Water Walk at any time. Come for an hour, a day, all three days. We have a system of leapfrogging walkers in relay with vehicles and I can take walkers back to their vehicles. I commit to all three days, assigning my ENG 103 C and 104 B classes to attend Finlandia’s Indigenous Peoples Day event and using the Water Walk in writing and reflection lessons. We are reading Fire Keeper’s Daughter in ENG 103 and The Four Pivots in ENG 104 and the Water Walk is a way to deepen our understanding of culture, Ceded Territory, and social justice. I hope our students, faculty, staff, and trustees can join us as we feast and rest and share community. We welcome everyone’s prayers.

Chi Miigwech to Finlandia University!

C. Mills 2022

We are fortunate to learn from the Water Walkers who walked with Grandma Josephine. She was a grandmother who founded the water protectors movement along with other women from the four directions of Turtle Island (North America). We learn as we walk. Like writing. Practice makes progress, not perfection.

You can learn about our Water Walk and traditional protocol in this brochure we distribute along our route:

I invite you to ponder how precious water is today.

October 10, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that expresses the idea, “for the water.” You can find inspiration in water protection movements. Is it a celebration or a dark dystopian warning? Consider your place and the bodies of water that have shaped you. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by October 15, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
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  1. Colleen M. Chesebro

    Charli, I walk in spirit with you and all the water walkers. I love this tradition and I hope with today’s energy from the Aries harvest moon, our understanding will increase for our natural resources, especially water.

    • Charli Mills

      We walked with all who joined us in spirit, Colleen. We walked each morning with Grandmother Moon lighting the day before dawn.

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        How beautiful. I’ve spent some time each morning with Grandmother moon. What a lovely tradition.

  2. Jules


    You are a wonderful water educator. I love water. I was born under a water sign. May we continue to help the water bless us. And for those without, may we generously give, and for those who have had too much, may we offer our assistance for recovery.

    ‘Grandmother Moon’… I learned something new today. I think this is the first time I have read or heard the moon called ‘Grandmother’. I have enjoyed seeing the moon’s brightness over the last several days. Because I like the story, I always look for the Rabbit in the Moon instead of a face. There are many moon stories. Some traditions have special blessings for the moon when she cannot be seen. 🙂 ????

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Jules. I appreciate your gratitude for water. On the Water Walk this past week, I contemplated a teaching about water’s presence before humanity’s. I guess that means we were all born of water, but you have the added water sign. Do you remember the Little River Band song, “Cool Change”? I’ve always loved the lines, “Well, I was born in the sign of water/
      And it’s there that I feel my best…” I’m an air sign, but the love of water is still flowing within me. Happy to share that regard with you.

      I’ve attended several Grandmother Moon ceremonies and learned that from my Anishinaabekwewog. It’s comforting to look up at a full moon and think of her as “grandmother.” I look for the rabbit, too! The dark of the moon is like a clean slate. And then a new cycle begins. I’d be interested in learning about the dark moon blessings.

      • Jules

        “Rosh Chodesh” (The New Moon) and women: (from Wiki):
        According to the Talmud, women are forbidden to engage in work on Rosh Chodesh. Rashi, in commenting on this passage, delineates the activities from which they must refrain: spinning, weaving, and sewing—the skills that women contributed to the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

        In modern times, female-centered Rosh Chodesh observances vary from group to group, but many are centered on small gatherings of women, called Rosh Chodesh groups. …Many Rosh Chodesh groups explore spirituality, religious education, ritual, health issues, music, chanting, art, and/or cooking.

        Miriam’s cup (for the prophet Miriam) originated in the 1980s in a Boston Rosh Chodesh group; it was invented by Stephanie Loo, who filled it with mayim hayim (living waters) and used it in a feminist ceremony of guided meditation.

        …There… a connection to ‘Living Water’ 😀
        I learned some new things too looking up those bits for you.

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, Jules! Thank you for mayim hayim! You are always such a knowledge seeker, and I’m grateful you shared the Rosh Chodesh story with me and found the reference to Living Water. Can you imagine the joy of slowing down each lunar cycle and pausing from work to chat and cook and feast with other women?

  3. Norah

    This is an impressive ceremony, Charli, and I admire the way you have fully embraced your new community and encourage others to join in too. Here in Australia, at the moment, many areas are flooded or under the threat of flood. We are told to expect a wet, wet summer with much more rain and many more areas flooded. So much of the land is already sodden and rivers are swollen and flooding. It’s difficult to comprehend there will be more. We seem to go from one extreme to the other, but perhaps in all of this, we need to have greater respect for our Earth and all its resources and appreciate that it’s bigger than us. Perhaps it is telling us we need to be more mindful. I’ll think on your challenge. No ideas are flowing at the moment.

    • Charli Mills

      Norah, I’m sad to learn of Australia’s summer of flooding. No place on earth is free of extreme weather events. I had a funny connection to Australia during our Walk, though. My friend Will made a skirt for our friend Kathy who is a Tribal Knowledge Keeper. He used material from Australia that has Aboriginal designs, using lots of small circles and repeated patterns. A distinct repeated pattern is clearly female! We called it Kathy’s va-jay-jay skirt and the jokes got raucous. I wondered how I was going to explain the story to you. 😀

      • Norah

        Thanks for explaining, Charli. I’m pleased you felt the connection. The Indigenous Australian designs are beautiful. I’m sure they look lovely on Kathy’s skirt. Our summer hasn’t begun yet, but the flooding has, and it’s forecast to continue and increase throughout summer. The situation is not looking good for many.

  4. SueSpitulnik

    I’m honored to have had the pleasure of shopping for fabric with you and then making your skirt. It was a fun project. I respect the way the indigenous peoples honor the land and what it gives in order for them to live. I wish more people had an understanding of what is important.

    • Charli Mills

      Sue, you honored me with your skill. Everybody noticed my ribbon skirt, and I love that I have a story of it that links me to you and our time in New York. Chickadees followed me the entire walk, too! We all need to work at becoming one heart, not just with each other, but with the living land and living waters. Miigwech!

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