Earlier this year, we featured an interview with Ojibwe leader Sharon Day as she walked along the entire length of the Mississippi River as part of the Mississippi Water Walk. Sharon and her companions completed the journey, but are still working hard to advocate for a healthy future for water. Although this is walk was not directly about the Great Lakes, Sharon's words and actions can be an inspiration for us all.
When I heard you speak at an event this winter, you gave a brilliant answer to someone in the audience who asked a simple question: Why? Why walk the length of the Mississippi River?
I’ve been asked this question many times, and my answer is usually this: if I were a lawyer or a hydrologist I might be doing something different, but I’m neither of those things. I am an Ojibwe woman, and my responsibility is to take care of the water. I can walk and I can pray and I can sing. And that’s what I have chosen to do.
Today many people seem to have a material relationship with the water, and yet others have a highly spiritual relationship with it. Can you share your perspective on our collective relationship to water today?
Today we’re missing a spiritual connection to the water because all we have to do is turn on a faucet. It’s like going to the store and buying a loaf of bread. We don’t have a relationship with our water, and we don’t have a relationship with our food. They are just products that we consume, as opposed to life-giving forces.
We must change this idea of water as a commodity. When we see the water as something that lives, then it’s hard to think of it simply as a commodity. We need to care for the water instead of merely use it. If we can do that it will change so many things.
I did the Mississippi River Water Walk because I live a block from the river, and I cross it several times a day. I have a relationship with the Mississippi River. But it’s about love. It’s about moving toward something, as opposed to resisting anything. The old people say that if you want peace, you must be with love.
One day when someone asked, “Why do you do this? What do you hope to accomplish?” I said I was walking because I want world peace. And ultimately that is why we walk. If we can treat the water with respect and love—not violence—then perhaps that sentiment will spill over into our relationships with each other and our relationships with the earth.
What other strategies do you recommend for making more people aware of the importance of clean water and other gifts we share?
People need to understand that we face these kinds of changes globally, yet we can all take local action. Walk around lakes. Walk along the river near your home, whatever river that is. Offer that. Meditate. I believe that the water spirits are much more powerful than our corporations and cities. So ask for the deepest truth and purest love through invocation. Then add science.