By Clay Schuldt
The Mississippi River, the fourth longest river in the world at 2,230 miles, is a vital part of the lives of countless Americans. Despite the river’s importance it has become heavily polluted; the second polluted river in the United States.
All along the Mississippi, chemical runoff from several sources have led to a cumulative effect. The farther a person travels down the river, the more polluted it is. Near the mouth of the Mississippi in Louisiana, some areas are referred to as “dead zones” – areas in which the water has been depleted of oxygen.
On March 1 a group of Native American women called “The River Walkers,” led by Sharon Day of the Ojibwe tribe, began a mission to draw attention to this problem. The River Walkers intend to transport a copper pail full of water from Lake Itasca all the way down to the mouth of the Mississippi in Louisiana; however, as their name suggests, they will be transporting the water on foot.
The River Walkers estimate it will take two months to walk the length of the Mississippi and despite the weather they are making excellent time. The River Walkers reached Miller’s Corner on March 18. In honor of The River Walkers’ journey, the Houston County Protectors co-sponsored a pot luck dinner at the Four Seasons Community Center in Caledonia.
“I love that you are walking to protect the water because that is what we’re trying to do here,” Donna Buckbee of the Houston County Protectors said. Buckbee summarized her organization’s efforts to prevent large-scale frac sand mining from entering Houston County.
During the dinner members of The River Walkers and their supporters shared stories of their journey and efforts to keep the Mississippi River pollution free.
As the leader of The River Walkers, Sharon Day emphasized that the purpose of their walk was to raise awareness and educate people. In the Minnesota leg of the trip several other groups have extended support.
Annie Maday of the Bad River Tribal Council began traveling with The River Walkers and spoke at the dinner in regard to her people’s fight with mining issues. An open pit iron-ore mine that was proposed for the Bad River watershed could threaten local drinking water and the Bad River Ojibwe wild-rice beds. “We have to stand up for the water,” Maday said. “We need to stand together on this and say enough is enough.”
The day The River Walkers reached Houston County they were joined in their walk by members of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Greg Littlejohn, a legislator from the Ho-Chunk Nation, was on hand to give his support for the cause. “We’re only the temporary caretaker of the environment and we have to take the responsibility seriously.”
Though The River Walkers did spend Monday night in Caledonia, they were back on the road again early Tuesday morning eager to continue spreading their message regardless of what the weather had in store for them.
By March 27 the Walkers intend to reach Muscatine, Iowa and hope to reach Venice, La. by April, 28.
To learn more or participate, join the Mississippi River Water Walk 2013 Facebook group. Donations to support the walk can be sent to Indigenous Peoples Task Force: Water Walk. 1335 E. 23rd St., Minneapolis, MN 55404
Day wished to encourage others to support the Mississippi River however possible, saying, “Anyone can do this in their own way.”