SUPERIOR, Wis. — An Indigenous-led group began a nibi (water) walk alongside the Nemadji River near Superior on Sunday morning, July 18. The group of women plan to walk along the path of the Line 3 Enbridge replacement pipeline from Superior to the North Dakota border, finishing about July 29.
The walk began with a blessing ceremony at Lake Superior, where water from the lake was placed in a ceremonial copper vessel that will be carried by the walkers for the 359-mile journey. At each body of water, more water will be added to the vessel.
"At every water crossing, we will gather water and pray with it," said organizer, elder and water protector Sharon Day. "We are walking to pray for the water along the proposed route of Line 3. We are not a protest. Our only audience is the water."
The Line 3 Enbridge pipeline is a 340-mile pipeline across northern Minnesota that will replace the existing, aging Line 3. The new pipeline will carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to Enbridge's terminal in Superior. Opponents of the pipeline say it is unnecessary, that it worsens climate change, risks an oil spill and violates Indigenous and treaty rights.
"For me personally, I believe that water is life and that we need to have water for future generations. It’s a finite resource, and we need to protect that," said walker Chas Jewett.
This isn't Jewett's or Day's first walk. The two women went on a 54-day nibi walk along the Missouri River after the events at Standing Rock in 2016-17. For the walk that started Sunday, there's a core group of five who will walk most of the way, and others who will join for parts of the journey.
The nibi water walks are based in Ojibwe ceremonial water teachings, Day said. She said the walkers walk to honor the waters, speak to the water spirits and pray for healthy rivers, lakes and oceans for future generations.
On the walk, the women will make offerings for the water, sing water songs and make petitions for the water to be pure and clean and to continuously flow. The walkers carry the water in the copper vessel in a relay. A woman will carry the water for a little less than a mile, then pass the vessel on to the next person in the group.
Throughout their walk, participants will pray and sing, sunup to sundown, to heal and honor the water.
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. We’re sending a message to the world that we wish for an end to the violence perpetrated on our land, water and the earth’s climate.”
For Jewett, the ceremony is also important to participate in because members of the Indigenous community were not allowed to practice ceremonies for many years. Indigenous religions were oppressed, she said, until Congress and President Jimmy Carter signed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978.
"We're only able to do these pilgrimages and walks now; it's a fairly recent phenomenon," Jewett said. "The trees and rivers are hearing these songs for the first time in probably 150 years. I was 6 years old when I was first allowed to pray in my way. We're able to return to our ways and to have this connection, which hasn't existed for such a long time."