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Water is Life Festival brings Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco and more to Bayfront Festival Park

Over 4,000 people gathered at Bayfront Festival Park to celebrate efforts — many unseen — that advocate for clean-water access.

Gary Farmer, who plays Uncle Brownie on the comedy-drama series "Reservation Dogs," plays harmonica on stage with Keith Secola during the Water is Life Festival
Gary Farmer, who plays Uncle Brownie on the comedy-drama series "Reservation Dogs," plays harmonica on stage with Keith Secola during the Water is Life Festival at Bayfront Park in Duluth on Sunday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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DULUTH — Clean-water advocates and musicgoers alike gathered Sunday at Bayfront Festival Park for the annual Water is Life Festival.

Benefiting Honor the Earth — an organization that advocates for environmental and Indigenous equity — the celebration featured events geared toward promoting clean water efforts as well as Indigenous art in all of its forms: music, exhibits, food and more. About 4,000 people were in attendance.

Major headliners hit the stage including Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls, Gaelynn Lea and other special guests like Canadian actor D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai from the comedy-drama series "Reservation Dogs" alongside Indigenous model and activist Quannah Chasinghorse.

D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, who plays Bear Smallhill on the show Reservation Dogs, answers questions from the crowd at the Water is Life Festival
D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, who plays Bear Smallhill on the comedy-drama series "Reservation Dogs," answers questions from the crowd.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Under bluebird skies with a cool fall wind, a water ceremony took place as gates opened just after noon.

Winona LaDuke and other activist speakers spoke of land recognition and sang prayers to kick off the festival.

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From the column: "Oil and water do not mix. And, it turns out, we are wasting almost as much water as we use."

Prior to the gates opening, solo singer-songwriter and opener Annie Humphrey compared her experience in the resistance against Enbridge lines 3 and 5 to a bar stool.

“It’s like you keep pulling and it just goes back. But you have to keep pulling, that’s what I am doing here,” she said.

Todd Partridge, left, of Iowa, and Riley Partridge, right, of Duluth, take a selfie with Gary Farmer, who plays Uncle Brownie on the show Reservation Dogs, during the Water is Life Festival
Todd Partridge, left, of Iowa, and Riley Partridge, right, of Duluth, take a selfie with Gary Farmer, who plays Uncle Brownie on the comedy-drama series "Reservation Dogs," during the Water is Life Festival.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

For the first few hours, people swayed to Humphrey and local legend Gaelynn Lea’s delicate, yet haunting melodies.

Corey Medina kept the spirit going alongside his band’s touch of swinging, angst-filled electric guitar riffs.

The group livened the crowd as Medina chanted sentiments of identity: “This one is for all the Natives who are too afraid to be Native,” he said.

Scheduled next were David Huckfelt, Keith Secola, Allison Russell and Low before the final acts — Ani DiFranco and Indigo Girls.

Five scheduled European appearances are affected. The Duluth musicians still hope to make a planned performance at the Water is Life festival in Bayfront Festival Park on Sept. 4.

Throughout the day, families with children shuffled between vendors, encampments and the bigger-than-life-sized puppet station.

There was a moment where a parade of puppeteer artists and festivalgoers danced through the crowd in the form of a wolf, a lake sturgeon, a red phoenix and a school of fish.

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A wolf puppet walks through the crowd during the Water is Life Festival
A wolf puppet walks through the crowd during the Water is Life Festival.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Vendors also kept attendees busy with endless options of food and retail memorabilia.

Notable food vendors included Mama Roots, Oasis del Norte, the Frybread Shack, Top Dog, Migizi Will Frybread, Room at the Table and Beyond Nuts. Informational booths and local artists made up of the rest of the vendors.

For festival participants like Ammie O’Connor, supporting the cause was an important reason for attending the event.

Keith Secola smiles as he looks out over the crowd
Keith Secola smiles as he looks out over the crowd at the Water is Life Festival.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“I’m here for the music, but especially for the cause,” they said.

All of the proceeds go to Honor the Earth, an organization started in 1993 by LaDuke and the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.

According to its website, the group's mission is: “to create awareness and support for Native environmental issues and to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities … developing these resources by using music, the arts, the media and Indigenous wisdom to ask people to recognize our joint dependency on the Earth and be a voice for those not heard.”

Thousands gather Sunday afternoon, Sept. 4, 2022, at Bayfront Park in Duluth
Thousands gather Sunday for the Water is Life Festival.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

When asked what being a part of the festival meant to him, musical guest and organizer David Huckfelt said: “There is a very small number of people who stand to profit from making these environmental decisions look very complicated, but everyone wants a healthy environment for our children and grandchildren. The tribes in Minnesota have been working so hard in the last several years to ensure clear water and protected lands for everyone. This year this is a gift to honor and celebrate them.”

David Huckfelt sings from the stage at Bayfront Park
David Huckfelt sings from the stage at Bayfront Festival Park.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Children play with fish puppets during the Water is Life Festival
Children play with fish puppets during the Water is Life Festival at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Keith Secola sings to the crowd at the Water is Life Festival
Keith Secola sings to the crowd in Duluth on Sunday afternoon.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, who plays Bear Smallhill on the show Reservation Dogs, laughs as he chats with the crowd between musical acts
D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, who plays Bear Smallhill on the comedy-drama series "Reservation Dogs," laughs as he chats with the crowd between musical acts.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
A Monarch Butterfly puppet flies through the crowd
A monarch butterfly puppet flies through the crowd during the Water is Life Festival.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
The crowd sings along with Keith Secola at the Water is Life Festival
The crowd sings along with Keith Secola.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Related Topics: BAYFRONT FESTIVAL PARKDULUTHMUSICENVIRONMENT
Peyton Haug is a former intern reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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