Anishinaabe walkers will begin a 1,420-mile journey Thursday carrying a pail of Lake Superior water from Duluth to Matane, Quebec, where they'll join the water with the St. Lawrence River.
For the Earth and Water Walk is an Anishinaabe ceremony to honor the water's gift of life for all beings. It isn't a protest, but rather a reminder that people have a responsibility to care for water and that Native Americans have always been here, living with the land and water, said water walker Tasha Beeds of Peterborough, Ontario.
The walkers will begin with a sunrise ceremony at Spirit Mountain at 6 a.m. Thursday, followed by a second ceremony to gather the water. They'll then start walking to Quebec along Lake Superior's south shore, a journey that is expected to take four to six months.
The belief that water is life is embedded in indigenous culture, said Beeds, who has been on four water walks. The walk is a reminder that Native Americans lived here long before the United States and Canada existed and that they'll always be here, she said. They were able to exist without water pollution, but now, the present and future generations are facing serious consequences. Beeds said the walk encourages people to think about how they can do things differently and reminds them that it doesn't take a lot to begin to take action. Humans also have the choice of using bottled water if drinking water is too dangerous, but animals don't have that choice.
"If the water leaves us, we're going to feel the impact the same way. We all need that water to survive and we all depend upon that water. Not just us - all of creation," Beeds said. "It's also about raising consciousness that we're not the only beings that rely on the water."
Beeds said she worries about what the world will look like when her 2-year-old granddaughter is an adult, pointing out that Native Americans are taught to think about the impacts their movements will have seven generations from now.
"We're in that continuum between the past and the present and the future. The walk is about that as well. It's about honoring those ancestors that made sure that we knew how to take care of the Earth's water and also honoring the future children that are dependent on us to make sure that we think about the water, that we think about the Earth," she said.
Walk leader and grandmother Josephine Mandamin of Thunder Bay has walked more than 22,000 kilometers since her first water walk in 2003 and has walked the perimeter of every Great Lake. This will be her third walk through Duluth, but Beeds said this year's event is expected to be her last. She began the water walks in 2003 when she heard the call for elders to do something about pollution.
"When I think of Josephine, I think without that consciousness and awareness that she brought to people's attention about the water and the needs of the water, we wouldn't have had movements like Idle No More and Standing Rock. She's the precursor of the contemporary environmental movements," Beeds said.
Beeds said a core group of nine people will be walking the full route, but they expect both indigenous and non-indigenous people to join them along the way. People can follow the walk at motherearthwaterwalk.com and at the For the Earth Water Walk 2017 Facebook page, where people can also view a water walk protocol pamphlet.