- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

ORTONVILLE, Minn. (AP) - A small group of indigenous people and their supporters are walking about 240 miles along the Minnesota River to raise awareness about the need to protect water.

The weeklong journey began last Friday from Big Stone Lake in Ortonville and will end this Friday at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers near Minneapolis. About 20 people were expected to participate, some of whom planned to walk for just one day. Members will carry water in a copper vessel along the river byway.

Such walks foster a spiritual connection with water, Ojibwe elder Sharon Day, who lives in St. Paul and serves as the executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, told The Free Press of Mankato (https://bit.ly/1LTGzEj ).

“When we walk, we’re praying for the river,” she said. “I ask people when they’re carrying the water really to focus on the water and not have extraneous conversations. It really is kind of a walking meditation with the water.”

Day has led numerous water walks across the country, including similar ones on the Ohio, St. Louis and Chippewa rivers. She also led a 1,200-mile trek along the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico in 2013.

“At the source it’s still clean enough to drink,” she said. “We wanted the river to know this is how you began, fresh and pure and clean, and this is how we wish for you to be again.”

Day hopes the walks will inspire people to take action by getting get involved in county government or joining a local watershed.

The walks also teach people not to objectify water, according to Camille Gage, a Minneapolis-based artist and environmental activist who has participated in several past walks in Minnesota and Ohio.

“Participating in these walks has really changed my way of looking at not only water but all the natural world,” she said. “We need the water to survive but it does not need us. It’s this very intertwined relationship that I think we have taken for granted too long.”

People of all faiths are encouraged to participate in the walks and “send a wish to the water,” said Gage, who’s Buddhist.

“As simple as it seems, it is also really powerful,” she said.

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Information from: The Free Press, https://www.mankatofreepress.com

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