In an expression of solidarity with the Mother Earth Water Walkers, members of the Winona-Dakota Unity Alliance, led by Bill and Joan McNeil, gave a much needed respite from the harsh weather to the Water Walkers by providing dinner and over-night lodging to Sharon Day and ten other walkers on March 17th in Winona.
Sharon Day, an Ojibwe mother of two and longtime St. Paul, MN resident along with half a dozen members of the Mother Earth Water Walkers are carrying an eagle feather staff and a copper vessel filled with water on an estimated 1,500-mile-long journey that began at the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca on March 1 and is expected to end in Louisiana at the point where the river first flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
“Last year I read an article about the cities, the farmers and 3M arguing over who was the biggest polluter of the Mississippi, not, What can we all do to clean her up?” Said Day. Now they are walking the distance for a historic waterway — the fourth longest in the world — in desperate need of prayer and help. Federal environmental studies rank the Mississippi as the second-most-polluted waterway in the U.S.
The river carries an estimated 1.5-million metric tons of nitrogen from agricultural runoff into the Gulf annually. The yearly buildup has created a “dead zone” of depleted oxygen that has grown to the size of New Jersey, according to one report. But it’s not just the Mighty Miss that is ailing in Minnesota.
In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that mercury pollution from power plants and industrial facilities has adversely affected 298 waters in the state. According to the nonprofit Environment Minnesota advocacy group, the level of animal and human fecal bacteria found in streams in southeastern Minnesota was above the federal water quality standard level.
The motivation for the walk is part raising awareness, part tradition. In the Ojibwe culture, women are responsible for taking care of and paying homage to water as a life source “from the beginning of time,” said Day, executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force in Minneapolis.
This year’s walk is again a grassroots effort. There are no deep-pocketed corporate sponsors — no Nikes, no Apple, no Mountain Valley Spring Water, which sounds like a natural. No, there’s just Day, the handful of initial walkers — which includes a grandson — and others who have pledged to join for a while along the 10-state trek.
There are two walkers at a time. One carries the vessel and the other the staff, which symbolically acts as the vessel’s protector, for about 15 minutes before those traveling in a van replace them. The walkers pray along the way. A Mississippi River Water Walk 2013 Facebook page is documenting the group’s journey.
“Just passed the Stone Arch bridge with dancers and a hand drum group! We are under the (Interstate) 94 bridge,” Day wrote about three hours after our chat.
The group has walked through a snowstorm and been fortunate enough to have people in many Minnesota river cities provide a couch or a bed for the night. With some money from a few fundraisers, Day said the walkers will rent a 19-foot RV near the Minnesota-Iowa border for the rest of the journey because indoor resources will be harder to find as they head south.
Day began the journey with a sunrise prayer ceremony that included the group drinking from the headwaters. Final destination is a spot near Pilottown, La., where the river’s main stem first empties into the Gulf in three different directions. That’s where the water from the copper vessel will be poured after a brief ceremony.
“We drank that water,” Day told me. “It’s pure and we are going to give the Mississippi itself a drink of that water. This is how it started out — pure and clean. That’s how us humans come into the world — pure and clean.”
“Sometimes, we end up not so pure or clean,” she added. “But we can get back to that. Same thing with the river. If we have the will, we can change this.”
Ruben Rosario can be reached at 651 228-5454 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nycrican.
Report – March 11, 2013
Winona County/ Winona Dakota Unity Alliance Outreach to the
Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate
The Director of Planning and Environmental Services for Winona County met with Chairman and Tribal Council of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate on Friday, March 8, 2013. This meeting was prompted by information John Borman received about the tribe’s interest in conducting a comprehensive plan for the reservation’s 7 districts along with an evaluation of the reservation land use controls/zoning. Jason was joined on the trip by Winona Dakota Unity Alliance representative Nick Zeller.
On the morning of Friday, March 8, Jason and Nick were greeted by Tamara St. John of the Tribe’s Historic Preservation/ Cultural Affairs office and Vine Marks, one of the remaining fluent speakers of the Dakota language. Vine and Tamara provided a tour of the part of the reservation including the tribal offices, housing developments, schools, cultural sites, future industrial park and various facilities. In addition, they provided excellent background on the historic and present day challenges the tribe faces with regard to their planning and operational aspirations.
In the afternoon, Jason made a presentation to the Tribal Chairman Robert Shepherd and Tribal Council members from 7 districts, along with Tribal Planning Director Diana Canku, phD and Michael LaBatte, the GIS/CAD Manager. Nick Zeller presented the council with Maple Long Johns from Bloedow’s of Winona and Jason presented the Tribal Chairman with several current books from Fulcrum publishing on Native American topics along with sausage from the Holmen Locker Plant.
The presentation covered the general organizational structure of a good comprehensive plan, stressing the importance of a grass roots foundation, which resonated with the Chairman. In addition, economic development strategies and the discussion of the content and implementation strategies were discussed. Lake Travers District Councilman Francis Crawford asked how a plan can address the complexity of interests and representations across the 7 districts as well as how individual land owners are accommodated if an opportunity arises that is not consistent with the plan. Jason explained that an end-product may look like a bound document with a large map, the front section being common values and goals of the entire reservation, followed by the grass roots policy statements and objectives of each district. The map may consider common/public areas such as cultural sites, parks, community facilities, etc. as a uniform element of land use designation, while individual districts may have their own land use designations (with a common designation system). With regard to remaining flexible for opportunities of individual property owners, Jason mentioned the structure of the ordinance as well as conditional use permitting as options to allow greater flexibility. Chairman Shepherd acknowledged the importance of having grass roots led planning in each of the districts so the Council is not bogged down with the day to day dealings of the districts.
Jason also described economic development strategies that may translate to the challenging environment the tribe encounters. Economic gardening, the ‘Bucketworks’ program and other strategies were described. Chairman Shepherd discussed the idea of the reservation scenic byway and the tourism economy. Jason followed up the meeting with an e-mail to Chairman Shepherd offering web links to various programs and ideas that may be of interest.
The visit was a very worthwhile exchange of ideas and challenges and fostered a partnership of sharing ideas and resources between the entities. Jason provided the Council with his contact information and a copy of Winona County’s Comprehensive Planning strategy which is based on best practices of planning at the County-level.
Seeking reconciliation 150 years after the Dakota Uprising
I grew up in the American South, born the year before Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. I came into adulthood with people who had in near memory segregation and integration, habits of and challenges to “the Southern way of life.” Southern culture was and is constantly figuring out what makes up the daily practice of reconciliation. So when I moved to the upper Midwest years ago, it was with some apprehension. I worried that my new neighbors would simply wonder, “How could you stand living with all those racists?” I asked a friend whether Midwesterners would be able to see that thousands of people in the South are trying to overturn a history of injustice day by day. Click here for entire article