Leader photo/ALY GIBSON Andy Jackson, citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and Water Walk organizer, points out a spot that grows medicines around the lake located at Gage Street in Dowagiac.

Archived Story

Walking to save the water

Published 4:50pm Thursday, August 23, 2012

For Andy Jackson, and many other citizens of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the fifth annual Water Walk, slated for Aug. 31, isn’t just a physical event; it’s a sacred one.

Born from the original idea of Native American grandmothers, of Canada, who continue to walk the circumference of the Great Lakes to preserve the natural resource, Jackson and others in the tribe decided to organize their own. The grandmothers who originally began the trek were hosted by the tribe, which prompted Jackson’s involvement and education of how to properly bless the natural water sources around Dowagiac.

“These grannies had the same dreams; they feared we were losing the water and the resource may not be around for the next seven generations,” Jackson said Thursday, by the lake. “I drop sacred tobacco into the water and we say a prayer for the water every time.”

The tobacco is considered a sacred medicine and it is free of additives and carcinogens contained in a tobacco cigarette. To keep with tradition, a copper pail is filled with water and carried by everyone on the walk. Along the way, a tribal member will bless bodies of water, sometimes as small as puddles, with the tobacco and prayers. The walk, which takes place the day before the Kee-Boon-Mein-Kaa Pow Wow Sept. 1-2, begins at the lake on Gage Street. The lake has a Potawatomi name, which is intentionally excluded from print and even most speech because of its sacred meaning.

“The walk has grown each year,” Jackson said. “Only three people completed the walk the first year. Last year, we had citizens from every generation on the walk: babies, small children, teens, adults and even grandparents.”

Jackson, who said a multi-generational participation record is what she considers successful, often rotates the copper pail between walkers, giving each a sense of responsibility in protecting the water.

The Dowagiac community has also stepped up to help the tribal members in their trek.

“The tribal police lead us in front, and Dowagiac police on bikes and one in a car, follow us,” Jackson said.

The health department and Dowagiac fire station also help provide lunch.

“They all make sure we’re doing alright and they welcome us,” Jackson said.

The best moment of the walk though, Jackson said, is when they finally reach their destination of the Rodgers Lake campus, where the pow wow arena sits on tribal land.

“Walking into the campgrounds and everyone stops,” Jackson said. “They clap and sing … it’s the coolest part.”

Jackson also said when walkers grow weary, two young drummers, who ride in vans that serve as cooling and rest stations for walkers, hop out and drum and sing to motivate the group.

“It’s a very spiritual place for everyone,” Jackson said.

The walk begins Aug. 31 with a sunrise ceremony. The walk will then last for 13 miles and end at the pow wow arena.

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