Water walkers making 1,200-mile trek along Mississippi River

Isabel and Heather St. Arnold walk into Quincy with support staff, carrying a ceremonial copper pail of Mississippi River water. The Mississippi River Water Walkers are expected to reach the Gulf of Mexico about April 29. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Apr. 3, 2013 10:30 am Updated: Apr. 17, 2013 11:15 am

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

Sharon Day and a small group of Native Americans have walked about 700 miles in the past 34 days and have about 500 miles yet to go.

The Mississippi River Water Walk team passed through Quincy on Tuesday afternoon, carrying a ceremonial copper pail filled with water gathered at the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota -- headed for the Gulf of Mexico.

"Every step we take, we will be praying for and thinking of the water. The water has given life to us and now, we will support the water," Day said.

Day, 61, is being accompanied by women in their 40s and a young man who is 32. The women take turns carrying the pail of water. They also carry a staff with the course of the Mississippi carved on it and feathers from a golden eagle, a bald eagle and a macaw. The man can carry the staff, but the women carry the water.

"Water is the responsibility of women," said Day, an Ojibwe elder. Fire is the responsibility of Ojibwe men.

The water walk is meant to raise awareness about river pollution as well as showing respect for the water.

In Minnesota and Iowa, Day said many of the people she met were concerned about "fracking" -- hydraulic fracturing, the practice of pumping water and chemicals into underground rock formations to free oil or natural gas. People in Davenport, Iowa, were concerned about how the lock and dam system has changed the river. Others worry about erosion, acidification or field runoff containing fertilizers and farm chemicals.

"When you're a little kid, your mother tells you to ‘clean up this mess.' We haven't done this very well with industry," Day said.

This isn't Day's first water walk. As a Midewin -- an Ojibwe spiritual woman -- Day and others have been involved in other water walks since 2003. Two years ago, they brought together pails of water carried from the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Arctic oceans. The pails of water were brought together in a single container and then poured into a northern lake.

The walkers got some extra help Tuesday when a mother and daughter from Milwaukee joined the team for one day.

Team members stay at motels or as guests along the way.

"Sometimes people have bought us dinner or lodging. We've stayed in the homes of some pretty wonderful strangers," Day said.