A group of Ojibwe women will walk the length of the Kettle River in September, carrying water from its headwater bogs to its confluence with the St. Croix River. The journey will show respect for the essential roles of women and water in our world.
“Led by Anishinaabe Grandmothers, Water Walks respect the truth that water is a life giver, and because women also give life they are the keepers of the water,” the group called NibiWalk says.
Organized by Sharon Day, NibiWalk has previously conducted ceremonies along several rivers, including the Minnesota, St. Louis, Ohio, and others. Last fall, Day performed a brief Sunday morning ceremony at the Boom Site. On its website, Nibi Walks explains “The reason we walk is to honor the rivers and all water and to speak to the water spirits so that there will be healthy rivers, lakes and oceans for our ancestors in the generations to come.”
People who are interested in accompanying the walk for all or part of the trip, which is expected to take about four days, are asked to attend one of two upcoming orientation sessions.
Tuesday, August 23
6 to 8 p.m.
Taylors Falls Community Center
Taylors Falls, MN
Thursday, August 25
6 to 8 p.m.
Audubon Center of the North Woods
West of Sandstone, MN
The Water Walk Orientation is an important step in preparing for the Kettle River Walk. Those who attend will be introduced to the protocols for participating in an indigenous ceremony and they will also reflect on their own personal relationship with rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.
“When we are walking for the water, we are in ceremony from the beginning of the day until we retire at day’s end. We try to move like the river, continuously all day long, every day until we reach our destination. We carry asemaa/tobacco with us to offer to any flowing streams or rivers we cross, also to honor any animals we may cross over along the roads or trails. When we walk, this is a time for prayer or songs for the water,” Nibi Walks says.
The Kettle River is one of the St. Croix’s major tributaries. It flows 80 miles through east-central Minnesota, joining the St. Croix east of Hinckley, at St. Croix State Park. It is a designated State Water Trail, one of the few state-designated Wild & Scenic Rivers in Minnesota, and is one of the best whitewater paddling rivers in the upper Midwest.
The river’s name has referenced the glacial potholes in its bedrock since before recorded history. Ojibwe people have long called it Akiko zibi, which also means “Kettle River,” according to a 19th-century Irish immigrant missionary. It is also home to native sturgeon, and a long-running study of the imperiled fish species and its habitat.
The Kettle River Walk has been organized as part of an upcoming “Smithsonian Museum on Main Street” exhibit coming to Sandstone, on the banks of the Kettle in November. The touring exhibit Water/Ways focuses on the relationships between people and water—how water connects story, history, faith, ethics, the arts, and science all through community. It will be on exhibit from November 19, 2016 through January 1, 2017.
“Our hope is that citizens will join the walk, even if for an hour, a day, or perhaps some will participate all four days to honor the Kettle River,” said Danette Olsen, co-chair of the St. Croix Heritage Area.
The Heritage Area and Audubon Center of the North Woods collaborated on the application to become a host site for Water/Ways. Sponsors of the Kettle River Walk include the Minnesota Humanities Center, North Woods & Waters of the St. Croix Heritage Area, Audubon Center of the North Woods, and the St. Croix River Association.
Learn more about NibiWalk on their website.