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!
- 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.
- Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
- Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
- Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
- Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.
Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.