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Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Native, non-Native water protectors complete 90-mile Water Walk near Lake Superior

By Michele Bourdieu
With additional photos and videos by water protectors

Water Walkers gather at the Sand Point Lighthouse at the end of their 90-mile walk from Copper Harbor to Baraga Oct. 19, 20 and 21. Click on photo for larger version. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

BARAGA, Mich. -- Completing a three-day, 90-mile Water Walk near Lake Superior from Copper Harbor, People of the Heart Water Walkers -- Native and non-Native -- arrived at their destination, Sand Point Lighthouse in the Ojibwa Campground, Baraga, on Oct. 21, 2019.

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) member Kathy Smith, one of the organizers of the Walk, was happy to report that three generations of her family were represented in the Walk since her mother, Florine Chosa, and Kathy's son Jacob, participated with her.

Florine Chosa (facing camera) of KBIC, mother of Water Walk organizer Kathy Smith, participates in the People of the Heart Water Walk. (Photo © and courtesy Donica Hope Dravillas)

Kathy said her mother found it very moving to walk for the water and she had tears in her eyes from the realization that she, her daughter and her grandson were walking together.

"We must lead by example," Kathy said. "Our youth is our future. To see my son walk with his grandmother was a beautiful sight. I brought my son to bring that balance of the masculine and the feminine. He was the only male for the last two days on the walk so we could have that balance. As Anishinaabe we must plant the seeds in our youth because they are our future. We must teach our youth to be good stewards for our sacred water and the environment. That's where it is going to continue for the next 7 generations."

On the final day of the Walk, the youngest Water Walkers -- Jacob (10) of Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, son of Kathy Smith, carries the Eagle Staff and Madeline (9) of Copper Harbor, daughter of Donica Hope Dravillas, carries the copper pail of Nibi (Water) on the way to the Water’s edge at Sandpoint Lighthouse. (Photo © and courtesy Donica Hope Dravillas)

Donica Hope Dravillas of Copper Harbor was happy her daughter, Madeline, was able to participate as well. She noted Madeline was at first a little unsure of carrying Nibi when she saw so many strong women carrying it.

"After day one, I asked an Auntie to suggest to Madeline that she carry the Eagle Staff," Donica wrote on Facebook. "Madeline accepted. After that she started to carry Nibi. And after that she became a part. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to these women for encouraging my daughter."

Donica told Keweenaw Now her interest in the water walks is related to her experience at Standing Rock a few years ago.

"When I came back from there I made contact with Terri Denomie (of KBIC) about a water ceremony at Hunters' Point (in Copper Harbor) and then went to a Water Walk at Keweenaw Bay," she said.

The Walk began in Copper Harbor early Saturday morning, Oct. 19.

On Saturday, Oct. 19, People of the Heart Water Walkers gather before dawn in Copper Harbor to begin their Walk along Lake Superior. (Photo © and courtesy Gina Nicholas)

On hand for the start of the Walk was Erika Vye of Copper Harbor, who participated in all three days of the Water Walk.

"Kathy put it best when she said, 'It isn’t about the walk, it’s about the water,'" Erika noted. "This walk was not a protest or a display of strength or endurance; it was pure and from the heart. Ego is set aside. We walked together to do this important work -- carry the water forward, inspire and raise awareness."

The Walk begins ... (Photo © and courtesy Gina Nicholas)

... and continues with a bit of light rain. (Photo © and courtesy Gina Nicholas) 

As the sun comes up, Walkers head down scenic M-26 along Lake Superior from Copper Harbor toward Eagle Harbor. (Photo © and courtesy Gina Nicholas)

Keweenaw Now joined the Walkers in Eagle Harbor. Some were riding part of the way in a van provided by the Keweenaw Adventure Company of Copper Harbor.

Walkers pass through Eagle Harbor on Lake Superior. The Water Walk is led by Anishinaabekwe -- women from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community -- who are joined by other water protectors, Native and non-Native. Click on YouTube icon for larger screen. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Shelby Coleman of Copper Harbor, who was riding in the Keweenaw Adventure Company van driven by her friend Nick Wiersgalla, said the Walkers had left Copper Harbor at 7 a.m. after doing a tobacco offering.

"That (tobacco) promotes goodness in the travels and good interaction between the participants and the water," she said.

The van carried snacks and first aid supplies. Other volunteers followed or preceded the Walk in support vehicles and provided additional snacks and water or coffee. One of those was Charli Mills, who moved to the Keweenaw from New Mexico, where she had become interested in Native American cultures. Before driving her vehicle ahead of the Walkers she left it to walk with them at the start of the Walk and then walked back to get her car.

"I walked this morning from Astor Shipwreck Park (across from Fort Wilkins) to the edge of Copper Harbor. It was pitch black," Charli said. "Walking back to get ahead reminded me of the role of the sacred clown -- someone who goes backwards to move the story forward."*

Charli's friend Bonnie Harrer of Copper Harbor lent her support by fixing a breakfast of omelette muffins and providing lots of coffee for the Walkers. In her vehicle Charli carried pots of Bonnie's coffee, snacks and a 10-gallon water jug MacDonald's of Houghton lent the walkers for the weekend.

During the Water Walk, Charli Mills carries Nibi, while Erika Vye bears the protective Eagle Staff. (Photo © and courtesy Donica Dravillas)

From Eagle Harbor the Walkers continued to Cat Harbor, where some offered asema, sacred tobacco, to the water from the beach. Julie Belew of Houghton was one who made such an offering.

The leaders of the Walk, carrying the copper pail of Nibi, protected by the Eagle Staff, keep up a steady pace. Some participants pause to make a tobacco offering. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

"Those are prayers in the tobacco (asema) -- an offering of thanksgiving for the water," Julie said.

A young family from Copper Harbor -- Jon and Natalie Schubbe and their young son, Eli -- also paused near the beach at Cat Harbor.

Jon and Natalie Schubbe of Copper Harbor combined walking and riding with son Eli. Here they pause for a photo at Cat Harbor. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Further along, heading for Eagle River, some made a pit stop at the Great Sand Bay facilities. There Keweenaw Now had an opportunity to meet the two hardy elders riding in the golf cart bearing the American flag and the flag of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

KBIC elders Elvera Lantz of L'Anse and Diane Charron of Baraga ride in Diane's golf cart during the 90-mile Water Walk -- about 30 miles each day -- with just jackets and blankets for warmth. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

"We're both elders of the Tribe, and we're all friends," Diane said. "We're supporting the Water Walk (planned months ago). We do one from Pequaming to Sand Point in Baraga every summer. It's a 17-mile walk. This is a first. People from the Keweenaw asked if we would do it."

And do it they did, with Walkers taking turns carrying the copper pail of Nibi, that must keep moving all day until the group stops for the night.

According to Kathy Smith, the water must keep moving in one direction, since that is the way water flows. When the group has an overnight stop, they may do a water ceremony at the end of that day and then resume carrying it the next day. The bearer of the Eagle Staff, as a protector, accompanies the person carrying Nibi.

After stopping briefly at Great Sand Bay, some participants hurried to catch up with the leaders, heading for Eagle River (MI). Walkers spent the night in the homes of volunteers along the route, following a feast at Bethany Lutheran Church in Mohawk Saturday evening.

People of the Heart Water Walkers make a pit stop at Great Sand Bay and then hurry to catch up with the leaders. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

On Sunday, Oct. 20, the Water Walkers passed through Ripley and crossed the Portage Lift Bridge to Houghton.

Led by Kathy Smith and her son Jacob, People of the Heart Water Walkers arrive at the Portage Lift Bridge and cross it to Houghton on their second day of the 90-mile Walk from Copper Harbor to Baraga, Michigan. (Video © Charli Mills for Keweenaw Now)

In Houghton the Walkers enjoyed a gathering and feast at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

On Monday, Oct. 21, they set out early again and reached their final destination, the Sand Point Lighthouse in the Ojibwa Campground in Baraga.

As they approach their final destination in Baraga, People of the Heart Water Walkers pick up more participants for the walk to the Sand Point Lighthouse. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

When they came to the boundary of the KBIC Reservation, the Walkers were greeted by the sight of 11 eagles.

Water Walk participant Donica Hope Dravillas of Copper Harbor captures the flight of 11 eagles that welcomed the Walkers at the border of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Reservation. (Video © and courtesy Donica Hope Dravillas)

Assisted for safety by escorts, Water Walkers enter the Ojibwa Campground on their way to their final destination, the Sand Point Lighthouse on Keweenaw Bay. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Welcomed with bashkodejiibik nookwezigan (burning of medicine sage) by Lisa Denomie of the KBIC Cultural Committee, Water Walkers continue through the Ojibwa Campground to the Sand Point Lighthouse. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

At the completion of the Walk, near the Sand Point Lighthouse, KBIC elder Diane Charron offers asema (sacred tobacco) to the Lake. Kathy Smith offers thanks to the water. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

At their final destination near the Sand Point Lighthouse, Water Walkers describe the welcome home they received from their brother and sister eagles as they crossed into the KBIC Reservation. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Terri Denomie, second from right in the video above, whose Anishinaabe name is Gichigamikwe (Great Lakes Woman), called the eagles her sisters and brothers because she is of the Eagle Clan.

"I was gifted the Eagle Staff in 2016 to take care of when my sister, Pauline Knapp Spruce, walked on," Terri said. "I'm doing her work, and she's guiding me along the way."**

Cynthia May Drake of Ripley participated in the Walk all three days.

Cynthia May Drake carries the Eagle Staff during Day 1 of the Walk at Cat Harbor on Lake Superior. Terri Denomie of KBIC carries Nibi, and Erika Vye of Copper Harbor follows closely. (Photo © and courtesy Charli Mills)

"We are a community formed by water," Cynthia said. "We may have thought that we walked the Water, but She was gathering us together in community and walking us, showing us along the way those three days, how to build community and gather in together. All of us had roles to play from organizing the event to cooking food or cleaning up at a feast, to hosting someone in a home overnight, to being a driver of the 'respite mobile' to feeding coffee and water or muffins from the back of the trunk of the car. It was a collective effort. We did not measure miles we walked; we measured the depth of Spirit we gained as we walked with our Sisters or held them up in the journey."

Anne Newcombe, who drove one of the support vehicles during the Water Walk, attributed the success of the Walk to a whole community of participants, including the following:
Officer Darren of the Houghton City Police and his unnamed officer from the Hancock City Police for helping the Walkers cross traffic safely across the bridge Sunday afternoon; both Bethany Lutheran (Mohawk) and Good Shepherd Lutheran (Houghton) for feast space, as well as the KBIC Cultural Committee for the final night’s wonderful feast; Ronnie Mae Krueger; Shelby Laubhan’s and Sam Raymond’s Keweenaw Adventure business, Tressa and Vince Alvarado; KBIC for the use of support vans; and all of the overnight home hosts for the Walkers and Grandmothers -- Bucky Beach, Lake Fanny Hooe Resort, Ray and Viki Weglarz, Jenny Lester, Charli and Todd Mills, Anne Newcombe and Will Cantrell, and Cynthia May Drake.


* Watch for a guest article on the People of the Heart Water Walk by Charli Mills, coming soon.

** The Keweenaw Bay 6th Annual Pauline Knapp-Spruce Memorial Water Walk was held on July 24, 2019 -- a 17-mile walk from First Sand Beach at Pequaming Point to Sand Point. Pauline Knapp-Spruce participated in the KBIC welcoming of the 2011 Mother Earth Water Walkers, led by the late Josephine Mandamin of Thunder Bay, Ont. See our August 5, 2011, article, "KBIC welcomes 2011 Mother Earth Water Walk participants."

State of Michigan appeals Court of Claims' decision in Enbridge lawsuit concerning tunnel project

LANSING -- Today, Nov. 5, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced she has filed an appeal of the Court of Claims' decision in the lawsuit brought by Enbridge against the Governor and the Departments of Natural Resources and Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

The lawsuit concerns the lame duck statute 2018 PA 359 -- that would allow Enbridge to move forward with a multi-year project to build a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac to continue shipping petroleum products, more than 85 percent of which are destined for Canada. In the interim, Line 5 will remain in its current, exposed state on the bottomlands in the Straits.

"We always expected this matter would be resolved in the appellate courts," Nessel said. "While I disagree with Judge Kelly’s decision, I appreciate how promptly he addressed this case and issued his opinion. This is just the first step in the court process, and I am more resolved than ever to continue this fight on behalf of the people of Michigan."

The Claim of Appeal was filed today in the Court of Appeals. Under the court’s rules the state’s brief would be filed within 56 days, Enbridge’s response is due 35 days after the state’s brief, and the state’s reply is due 21 days after that. The court would then set a date for oral argument.

The ruling in this case has no impact on Attorney General Nessel’s separate lawsuit to decommission Line 5 based on the public trust doctrine and other common law and statutory claims. That case is currently before Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Jamo. Remaining briefs in that case are due November 12 and December 10.

Inset photo: Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. (Photo courtesy