LAPLACE - The Water Walkers trekked through a ferocious squall in Norco Tuesday afternoon during the tail end of their journey to return the headwaters of the Mississippi River to the estuary at the Gulf of Mexico, an approximately 1,200-mile trip.
Carrying a copper pail of full of water from the river’s source in Minnesota, Sharon Day of Minnesota, Beth Brent of West Virginia, Ira Johnson of Canada and Barb Baker-Larush of Wisconsin, left their starting point at Lake Itasca State Park on March 1. They have walked every day since then to complete their spiritual mission to draw attention to the perilous situation of the Mississippi River in the modern world.
The Mississippi River is the second most polluted river in the United States.
According to 61-year-old Sharon Day, the executive director of the Indigenous People’s Task Force, toxic chemicals from municipalities, farms and corporations are taking their toll on the river. By the time a drop of water reaches the “dead zones” near the mouth of the river, the water is nearly depleted of oxygen.
“The river is still blue (in Minnesota). You can drink the water at its source. “As you come further south, the river changes color. We were able to actually pay attention to the difference in the river because we were talking — the texture, the color, a film on top of the water. You see all of those things change,” said Day.
“The idea was to carry the water from its source where it’s pure and clean to the mouth of the river, just to give the river a taste of herself the way she started off, so she remembers the way that she was in the beginning and to create that hope that she can be that way again,” she added.
The Water Walks were started in 2002 by Josephine Mandamin with the intention to stop pollution in the nation’s bodies of water and educate people along the way. Day said her first walk was the Mother Earth in 2011, when she walked from Gulfport, Miss., to Lake Superior, a 47-day journey. As of Tuesday, Day said that the walkers had been going for 61 days.
Day said the key to walking for such extended periods of time is not about going as far as they can each day — each walker walks briskly in 15-minute intervals, then rotates with other walkers in the group.
“We’ve had people come and say ‘I can walk three miles,’ and I say ‘Yeah, but then you’d be done!’ You’ve got to keep walking all day. This way we can keep going, because if you had to walk five miles and then the other person walked five miles, you’d get really tired. Everyone can walk 15 minutes without getting too tired,” she said.
Day said her favorite parts of the walks are the ceremonies that the group holds each morning, the people they meet along the way and the sense of fellowship the walks inspire in the group.
When asked how the walkers endure the elements on their extended trips, Day offered some inspirational words: “I think when you have a spiritual purpose, it really doesn’t matter what the physical challenge is.”
The Water Walkers completed their walk on Friday morning and poured their source waters into the Mississippi River with a special indigenous ceremony. For more information on this or future water walks, or the walkers themselves, visit the Indigenous People’s Task Force website at www.indigenouspeoplestf.org.