Walkers pray for river

NEW ULM – Seeking a spiritual connection with the Minnesota River, an indigenous woman and American Indian man walked on the shoulder of State Highway 68 heading toward Mankato in warm but windy weather Tuesday afternoon.

Paula Horn, carried water from the Minnesota River in a copper vessel. Johnny Hemminger held a tree limb decorated with eagle feathers and the head and neck of a bald eagle.

“We can’t talk; we’re praying for the river,” Horn said as she walked by.

The eight-day trek began last Friday at the headwaters of the Minnesota River at Big Stone Lake Dam at Ortonville. It will conclude on the Minnesota Valley State Trail where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers meet at Fort Snelling State Park.

Horn and Hemminger are two of approximately 20 people participating in a walk to raise awareness about the need to protect water.

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 in a story published by The Associated Press.

“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.”

“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.

Journal Staff Writer Fritz Busch contributed to the story from The Associated Press.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.