By Amy Myszko
Almost exactly a year to the day after the history-making Treaty People’s Gathering, a large interfaith group returned to the Mississippi headwaters to pray and remember. The 4th Annual Water is Sacred: A Gathering at the Headwaters event took place during the weekend of June 3-5. Elders and leaders from White Earth gathered at Itasca State Park with interfaith and intergenerational allies to honor the life-giving waters, affirm Indigenous sovereignty, and nurture their connections with one another and the land.
This event built on the multi-faith tradition of hosting prayer at the river and was brought together by the Niibi Center, Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, RISE Coalition, Indigenous Environmental Network, 8th Fire Solar, Honor the Earth, and Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance (MUUSJA). Activities on Saturday included field trips to the Firelight Encampment site at the La Salle Valley Mississippi river crossing, 8th Fire Solar and Winona LaDuke’s Akiing Farm.
On Saturday evening, the Niibi Center, a Native-led non-profit on White Earth, had the opportunity to share information about their work in the community, particularly their Rights of Nature and Water Protector Support Network programs. The featured key note speaker was Terry Janis, a Lakota from Pine Ridge reservation who is on the board for the Niibi Center and is well respected lawyer who specializes Indian Sovereignty, Rights of Nature and Treaty Law. Janis has been heading up the Niibi Center’s Rights of Nature Program, funded in part by a grant from the Bush Foundation, which is actively working with the White Earth tribe to institute policies that protect manoomin (wild rice) as a living entity with inherent rights.
Along with Indigenous wisdom and traditions, Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light helped create space for mainstream traditions to connect their practices to the call to protect and honor water. The weekend included Shabbat and Shuvuot in the Jewish tradition as well as Pentecost in the Christian tradition. The organizers worked with faith leaders and community members to ensure there were meaningful opportunities for observance of these traditions. The gathering centered on uplifting and honoring different spiritual paths in a collaborative effort to protect the waters and the planet. The participation of the Pine Point singers was deeply appreciated throughout the weekend.
The culmination of the gathering on Sunday was a large prayer circle at the Mississippi headwaters at Itasca State Park. With drumming, song, and prayer, the group held an hour-long vigil amidst the hubbub of late spring tourists. The organizers and participants were able to model community through holding space in collaboration and participating in cultural sharing and exchange. Many of those involved reported a positive sense of reconnection to community and to the earth at the end of the gathering and plan to attend next year. All are welcome!