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Walkers make a sacred journey around Lake Superior

The Walk to Remember around Lake Superior has become a spiritual journey. "We're not just out here walking," said Butch Stone, an Ogichidaa from the Bad River Reservation, as he slowly drove behind a walker carrying the Protect the Water Eagle st...

The Walk to Remember around Lake Superior has become a spiritual journey.
"We're not just out here walking," said Butch Stone, an Ogichidaa from the Bad River Reservation, as he slowly drove behind a walker carrying the Protect the Water Eagle staff on the shoulder of the Trans Canada highway, a few miles from Michipicoten, Ontario, last week.
"It's become a spiritual journey, that's what it's become," he said. "Each day, when we arise, we do ceremonies, and when we stop we do ceremonies and at each place where there is water when we walk. They're calling us the sacred walkers."
Making a sacred journey around Lake Superior wasn't exactly the plan when a group of activists and environmentalists met at Sault Ste. Marie last March to discuss environmental issues.
The meeting, called by the Indigenous Environmental Network, eventually turned to the issue of water quality in Lake Superior. Walt Bresette, an environmental activist from the Red Cliff Reservation who died last year, had been talking about a walk around Lake Superior to raise public awareness about the lake, Stone said.
"Al Hunter (an Ojibwe from Rainy River, Ontario) started talking about a walk at the meeting," Stone said.
Then another man started talking about his dreams and visions about the water, about seeing dancing lights on the water, Stone said. Soon other participants at the meeting began talking about their dreams and visions.
"And from these dreams and visions, the walk around the lake was planned," Stone said.
Once the decision was made, the planners went to their spiritual leaders and asked for guidance.
It was here that they were told what songs to sing, what ceremonies to do during the journey, he said.
They were also told to offer tobacco and coins to every body of water they passed. Streams, creeks, ponds and lakes -- offerings were to be made at each of them.
Hunter, who has been with the walk since it left Waverly Beach on the Bad River Reservation on June 29, said the coins are offered "as metal, not money. We're returning part of what's been taken or removed."
The impact of the walk, which will complete the circle at the Bad River Powwow on Aug. 26, has been extraordinary, both for the walkers and those whom they meet on the way.
"It's been a learning journey," Hunter said. "I've learned that all people are closer to one another than they realize. The feelings of wanting to talk and share spreads across and transcends racial boundaries. People want to talk about how they feel, what they're thinking about, their relationship to the water, the lake and the environment. I think it's become a wake-up call."
"One of my friends, Lorne Desmoulin of Pic Mobert, was almost crying when he was carrying the staff," said Sandra Indian, Hunter's wife. "He shared his experiences about the water and how some of the things they had lost were coming back. He talked a lot about things coming back, and that we were a part of his community coming back to their ways."
"It's a way of coming home, a way of reimmersing myself in my roots," added Mel Rasmussen, a member at Lac du Flambeau in Wisconsin who plans to participate in the entire journey. "It's time to save the waters. The bottom line is keeping them alive."
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One of the extraordinary things on this trip has been hearing the grief people have expressed about the desecration of the water, said Esther Nahgahnub, a member at Fond du Lac. "It isn't just Indians, either, who feel that way, it's white people," she said. "When I've been down in the towns, they want to talk about it. One guy told me that eight people had died before they shut the water down. Other people say their water is being poisoned, and they're not told the truth."
Stone said he has been struck by stories about water contamination that have surfaced as the walkers pass through a town. In Superior, for example, the EPA announced it was fining Murphy Oil the day the walkers arrived in the Twin Ports.
In White River, Ontario, the walkers signed a petition about arsenic in the drinking water, and read a story in a newspaper in Wawa about similar contamination. At Michipicoten, they read the lead story in the Sault Ste. Marie newspaper about whether the International Joint Commission was alarmist when it claimed the fish in Lake Superior were dangerous to eat for pregnant women and young children. "We're doing all the human things -- walking, running, singing, drumming, making our offerings at the places we stop, but there is more going on in the spiritual world than we human beings with our limited vision can see," Stone said.
There's also a new community forming around the lake, the walkers said. They're making friends wherever they go as well as making new connections in Indian country.
"I hope to contact the whole Anishinaabe Nation around the lake and hope we can be as one and attack these environmental issues," Stone said. "That's my prayer."
The walkers arrived in Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday and will stay until Aug. 9, holding ceremonies, community meetings and workshops. They'll cross the bridge to the United States at 9 a.m. on Aug. 9. For more information about the walk and where to send donations, check the Web site at lifeinrealtime.com or call Frank Koehn at (715) 774-3333.
For information about events in the Soo call (705) 946-5900.

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Bygones is researched and written by David Ouse, retired reference librarian from the Duluth Public Library. He can be contacted at djouse49@gmail.com.
Bygones is researched and written by David Ouse, retired reference librarian from the Duluth Public Library. He can be contacted at djouse49@gmail.com.
Bygones is researched and written by David Ouse, retired reference librarian from the Duluth Public Library. He can be contacted at djouse49@gmail.com.