Women from native tribes across the country begin their walk along the Missouri River today to show their respect for the water and raise awareness about protecting it.
Starting at the headwaters in Three Forks, Montana, the women will walk over the next month and a half to the river’s confluence with the Mississippi in Missouri. They are inviting the public to join them along the way for as long as they want.
Lori Watso of the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota will be walking the river. She says she is honoring the water as a giver of life.
“It’s our purpose, our intention to show our respect for the water and our gratitude and help other people to understand the importance of our caring for the water and its necessity in our future and future generations,” she explains.
They will be passing through the homelands of Native Americans along the way, including the Standing Rock reservation.
People who want to join can go to www.nibiwalk.org There will be a geolocation tag at the top of the webpage.
In the past, the water walkers have followed the St. Louis River in Minnesota, the Ohio River and more.
Roxanne Ornelas, another river walker, also is a geography professor at Miami University in Ohio. While Ornelas talks to her class about protection of the environment in terms of regulations and public policy, she says it’s also important to impart indigenous knowledge about the sacredness of the river to non-native students.
“We look at the earth and our place in it, on it, holistically, that we are not separate from the earth,” she says. “We are the earth.”
Sharon Day is a leader of the walks and executive director of the Indigenous People’s Task Force. She says the Missouri River faces threats not just from oil and gas production but agriculture too. Chemicals from fertilizers used on large farms flow down into the river and contaminate it.
Day says it’s important to talk about threats to the river on this walk, but more important is the spiritual connection she feels with the river. She talks about how she’s felt at the end of other river walks.
“You have a deep relationship with the water,” says Day. “And that’s what we need to try to do is get people to understand that they do have a relationship and how do you nurture that relationship just as you would any other relationship, and this one is primary, right?”