Soon, we begin the third of our River Water Walks. The Ohio River Water Walk begins April 22 in Pittsburgh. The Ohio is the most polluted river in the United States. Once it ran pure and clean and at times the water level was so low, our ancestors could walk across it. Now, over 41 dams control the water levels so barges can move up and down the river carrying goods, oil and coal. Recent chemical spills at Elk River, and the Dan River coal ash dump are contributing to the already besieged waterway. There can be no doubt that we are damaging our fresh water faster than it can be replenished. How did we get to this point? What do we do?
According to Indigenous prophecies, we may be in the time of the 7th fire. The teachings of the Seven Fires prophecy were given to the Indigenous peoples prior to contact with the Europeans. It was through these prophesies that the People of the Three Fires, Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi began a westward migration to avoid contact with the “light-skinned people” coming from across the ocean. Each fire represents a period of time and events. So far all the proceeding prophesies have come to pass. The 7th fire signifies a time when a new people emerge—a people who lift us up and move us forward, or continue the disharmony and destruction. This movement to lift us up is created only if there is peace and harmony between the Indigenous people of this land and the light-skinned people—indeed among all the people who inhabit the Americas.
Up until now the light-skinned people have brought death to the Indigenous People’s through genocide. Over 50 million people inhabited North and South America, the Caribbean Islands, and Central America. Today, a few million survive. Many of us have lost our language and ceremonial ways as we were forced to speak English or Spanish and our ceremonial ways were outlawed and forbidden as predicted in the prophecies. Missionaries forced our ancestors to convert to Christianity. These tragedies were foretold to us by prophets and occurred during the first six fires. However this is history; what of the future?
There can be no doubt we are at a crossroads. If one were to view the earth the way the astronauts have, one would see how fragile our atmosphere is. We must repair the holes in the ozone layer and diminish the damage we are doing to our planet Earth, ni mama akii. We must stop poisoning the very water that we need to live. All the water on the Earth now is all there is; all the water we will ever have. We must learn to conserve, learn to be resourceful without continuing the rape of the earth’s precious fuels and minerals. If we do not, the elemental resources we share and need to survive will be gone forever. The prophesies state that when the world has been befouled and the waters turned bitter by disrespect, human beings will have two options to choose from, materialism or spirituality. If we chose spirituality, we will survive, but if we chose materialism, it will be the end for us all.
This is also a time of promise. The lighting of the 8th fire will occur only if we move toward peace and harmony. The 8th fire will be one of spiritual growth among all. It is only through peace and harmony among all people, those of us who originated here and those who have sought refuge here and are currently living on Turtle Island/ North America that we will survive.
We are invisible in our own lands. And yet our people, ways and traditions may be one of the best hopes for our shared survival.
I invite you to know us. I invite you to walk with me as I walk the Ohio River. Every step will be a prayer. It will be led by Indigenous women. It is our responsibility to take care of the water. And we will. With you or without you. I desire it to be with you, all of you. Those who’s ancestors came from across an ocean but who live here today on this beautiful land. Help us save our lands for my grandchildren and for yours. If you cannot walk, I invite you to make an offering every morning for the water. Say migwetch/ thank you to this water that gives you life and sustains you each and every day. Love, gratitude and kindness are the key to changing the world.
In this time of the 7th fire, reconciliations must occur, in order for the 8th fire to be lit; and that can only happen if you know us, and learn to know how to live with generosity, kindness and love as your guiding values. This means giving up some materialism and learning to live in a way in which the spirit is at the center of all that we do. Racism, prejudice, sexism, and greed must become a thing of the past. They are tools that do not serve any of us. I know it is hard, it’s hard for me to let go of the past hurts and the pain that I encounter almost every day. But I try. And I will do it. So come along with me. I invite you to.
The Ohio River Walk will begin April 22 in Pittsburgh. This river is the most polluted river in the United States and the largest tributary to the Mississippi river by volume. If you cannot join me in Ohio, then walk a river or lake where you are. Give thanks and peace will come to you. Migwetch. Thank you.
Sharon M. Day is the executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force. Ms. Day is an artist and activist who has been involved in public policy work for several decades.