by Joni Astrup
Sharon Day and some like-minded people walked through Elk River earlier this week on their way to the Gulf of Mexico.
They are raising awareness about the polluted state of the Mississippi River and what can be done to change that.
The Mississippi is the second-most-polluted river in the United States, Day said while in Elk River on Monday, March 11.
She hopes the walk will prompt people to think about the water every day.
“It’s not just the corporations and the cities that are polluting the water,” she said. She wants people to think about what they put on their lawn, because that goes into the river. Whatever is poured down the drain — medicines, antibacterial products and other things — ends up in the river.
“We want everybody to have some responsibility,” she explained.
Day is executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force in Minneapolis, which is supporting the walk known as the Mississippi River Water Walk 2013.
“We want the walk to be a prayer,” Day said. “Every step we take we will be praying for and thinking of the water. The water has given us life and now, we will support the water.”
Day and three others will complete the walk from Minnesota to Louisiana, where the Mississippi empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Others join them along the way.
They left March 1 from the Mississippi’s headwaters at Itasca State Park near Bemidji following a traditional Ojibwe water ceremony. They expect to reach Pilottown, La., on April 29.
As they walk, the participants carry a copper pail of water from the headwaters and a staff with eagle feathers fluttering from it.
“The idea was that we would carry that fresh, pure, clean water from the headwaters to the Gulf, where there are dead zones and the water really has been depleted of most of its oxygen,” Day said. The water from the headwaters will “kind of remind her (the Mississippi) of how she started off — pure and clean. Our wish is for her to be that way all the way (to the Gulf of Mexico).”
Day has estimated they will cover 25 to 30 miles a day, but they had exceeded that in some cases and were about two days ahead of schedule when they came through Elk River.
They had left Becker that morning, and walked on the shoulder of Highway 10 as traffic whizzed by and temperatures hovered around freezing. Their goal that day was Anoka — a 40-mile walk.
The participants walk in 15- to 20-minute increments, taking turns throughout the day from approximately sunrise to sundown. Day said that enables them to keep up a brisk pace.
Other water walks have preceded the Mississippi River Water Walk 2013.
The first was a decade ago around Lake Superior. There also were walks around the other Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, Day said.
In 2011, there was the Mother Earth Water Walk in which people carried ocean water from the four directions to Lake Superior.
The latest walk may be followed on Facebook, by searching Mississippi River Water Walk 2013.