Published April 16, 2016
FLINT – With Flint garnering national attention for its lead-contaminated drinking water system, some 400 American Indians and First Nations people gathered along the banks of the Flint River on Saturday for what was dubbed an international and interribal water ceremony. People represented various tribes from the Great Lakes region and First Nations in Canada.
Photographs were banned for the vast majority of the water ceremony. During the water ceremony, prayers were offered with pipes and water was blessed and given to participants. The water that was blessed came from participants who were asked to bring drinking water from where they live.
The water ceremony was conducted under blue skies with the temperature in the mid-70s in this industrial city along the banks of a heavily contaminated water flowing in the Flint River.
There was little said about the political side of how or why Flint’s drinking water system became contaminated with lead because of inept governmental officials. Instead various elders from the Great Lakes spoke of the importance of sacredness of water and how it is important to think about seven generations when making decisions about water.
“One of the biggest problems we have had with the Great Lakes is there is so much fresh water around, people don’t worry about it until something like this happens,” stated Frank Ettawageshik (Little Traverese Bay Bands of Odawa Indians), a traditional pipe carrier and the executive director of the United Tribes of Michigan, who lives in Harbor Springs, Michigan. “Not only has this impacted the drinking water for humans, but it has affected water pets drink and water to bathe.”
“Water has a spirit just like man. We have to realize how important it is for us to do this ceremony like this. But, not just in a large crowd such as this, but we need to do it daily,” Ettawageshik continued.
“We have to wonder what we are going to send forward for our future generations. We have to send fresh water into the future for our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren,” said Steve Pego, the immeidate past chief of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. We have members of our Tribe that have been poisoned by the lead in the pipes in Flint.”
Pego’s Tribe is located on the Isabella Indian Reservation in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, which is less than an hour’s drive to Flint.
In the crowd was a youth group from Chicago, which came to represent the Windy City. Four members of the Ogitchedaw color guard from the Pokagon Potawatomi Nation, based in Dowagiac, Michigan represented with their nation’s flag. A bus load of tribal citizens from the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, based at Harbor Springs, Michigan attended the ceremony.
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