Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sharon Day - What Will You Do For the Water?

Sharon Day, Bois Forte Ojibwe, is the executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, and the leader of 12 Nibi walks including the Mississippi River, the Ohio, the Minnesota, the James, the Kettle, and the Chippewa. She will lead a Potomac River walk this fall. 

“Gidaw izhichigaye na nibi?” This question in the Ojibwe language is, “What will you do for the water?”

This question was asked of me back in 1998. I responded by trying to help save Camp Coldwater Spring. Since then, I have led 12 or 13 Nibi, or water walks, to pray for the health of the rivers.  First, we determine which of the many rivers or lakes on Turtle Island need our prayers the most – which rivers or waterways are severely impaired by pollution or are facing immediate threats by new mines or pipelines running under them. Then we go to that river; we make an offering and state our intentions to walk along this waterway to speak to the water spirits. This is our responsibility as Ojibwekwe, indigenous women, to care for the water. 

Since the beginning of time, Ojibwe women have gathered the water every morning for the needs of the people. We are, like the water, life givers. As we bring our children into the world, they live in our womb in water for nine months. This is a most sacred place. We all need water for nourishment. We need water to bathe, to nourish our plants, and to cook or preserve our food. No human living on this earth can live without water. No one.

When I was a young girl, I would get up in the morning and get the water pail and head to the well to gather the water for the day. It was the last thing I did every night before I went to bed. When one gathers the water and carries it, one develops a relationship with the water. You are careful with it and you use it more than once. Today, we just turn on the faucet, use it, and pour what we don’t need down the drain. On the Nibi walks, women gather the water at the headwaters or source of the river and carry the water to the mouth of the river. There we give the water back to the river. While we carry it, we sing, we pray, we speak to the water spirits. We give thanks for the Nibi, we express our love and respect. These are the teachings of the Ojibwe people.

All the Nibi water walks follow these protocols and more. It is our intention to make sure there is water to nourish our great-great-great grandchildren seven generations into the future. We do this because someone did this for us. My ancestors knew that one day I would be here. They sang the songs and offered the prayers so that I would be able to enjoy life, mino bemadiziwin. To them I am grateful and it is due to the love they had for me that I am able to answer the question, “Gi daw izitchigay na nibi?” What will you do for the water?

“Ngah bimosayaan nibi ohnjay.” I will walk for the water.

Visit the Water/Ways traveling exhibit in Sandstone at the Audubon Center of the North Woods from November 19, 2016 – January 1, 2017. 


  1. Such a pity that my ancestors treated this kind of wisdom as "primitive," "uncivilized." What we now have is the quarterly report bottom line, in aid of which we're well on the way to poisoning our water and cooking the Earth itself. Nourishing seven generations into the future isn't primitive--it's the freshest and most timely news we can get.