“Who is the next walker? We need someone right now!”

Photo by Peg Furshong

I was on the Cannon River Water Walk last week, and there was a group of water walkers coming towards us carrying the vessel of water we had gathered at the headwaters. The water is not supposed to stop moving until we reach the confluence. Normally we walk in an organized relay. But we’d had a bumpy morning and in that moment we had lost the order of the relay. I was the only woman ready to go, even though it was not my turn. I hopped a low fence and got to the trail just in time to greet the walker coming towards me. She passed the copper vessel of water to me and we both spoke the words “Ngah izitchigay nibi ohnjay.” I will do it for the water.

Normally, walkers pass the water to the next person every mile. On this day, we knew there was a stretch of trail coming up where it would not be possible to switch for four miles. It was hot and I was glad the plan was for the youth to take that stretch.

After spontaneously jumping in, I followed the beautiful trail through the Cannon River valley. Soon I realized that I had passed more than one mile marker. I turned to the man carrying the eagle staff next to me and together we realized we were on that long stretch of trail!

It was beautiful. I felt the water pulling me forward and allowed my feet to follow her pace. Normally I really don’t enjoy long walks in the heat, but it did not bother me. I felt everyone else who had carried the water in the previous days of the walk was also with me at that moment. I knew there were five cars navigating back roads trying to find me as soon as possible.

Sooner than expected there was a crowd on the trail waiting for us. They had driven past a No Trespassing sign and scampered up and down a steep quarry-like hill to reach the trail. I passed the water to the next person. “Ngah izitchigay nibi ohnjay.” I will do it for the water.

On that day I understood a little bit more about how much being willing to walk for the water requires caring for myself so I am available. For various reasons we had become scattered and I was the only one who’d had a chance to eat lunch and be ready for what was next. While I was eating I had been feeling a little bit sheepish for being so relaxed. But it was really good that I had taken that moment of rest so that I could step in and give others a chance to rest while I walked.

When I said “yes, I’ll carry the water” I didn’t really know where it was going to take me but I would see it through no matter what. I can’t just say, “I’ve done my mile, I’m done, I’ll just sit in the woods and wait for someone to arrive.” I had no choice but to go the extra mile (or extra two and a half miles). It can feel like a big responsibility to carry the water; sensing this, my daughter is too intimidated to carry the water herself although she does walk with me.

While walking for the water requires self care and self responsibility it’s also not about me at all. Everything is about the water and about how we as a group support the water. My companion and I were never walking alone; we were just one wave of the relay of walkers, supported by car loads of other walkers. Physically moving through this experience with others teaches my body these ideas that otherwise can simply be nice progressive ideas in my mind. I am so grateful to Grandmother Josephine and Sharon Day for sharing this ceremony with us.

I’ve been thinking about showing up, being willing, and serving the whole a lot as I prepare for the Roots and Kinship event with Lyla June this Friday. As with many things, I did not know what I was getting into! One of the fun surprises is that Lyla June will be donating all the proceeds from her CD and book sales to the Bdote Learning Center. Then a few weeks ago a friend and accomplice connected us with The Sioux Chef, celebrated champion of indigenous foods, and they now will be helping us raise funds for Bdote Learning Center by providing fantastic indigenous cuisine. This is great news although on the back end there has been a lot of extra leg work for me. And I find myself saying yes, this is what was handed to me and I will carry it through. I’m honored to have a chance to support Bdote Learning Center and the resurgence of indigenous languages.

My wish for you, dear reader, is that you, too, find yourself expanded the next time you say “Yes, I am willing,” to any of the many ways love is calling you.

With love,


If you are curious to learn more about water walking – The Red Lake River Water Walk starts this weekend, followed by the Red River Water Walk beginning August 1. Learn more.