With relay-style precision, participants in the Saskatchewan River Water Walk pass a copper pail of water from one person to the next.
On Thursday, they took turns carrying the water along Highway 40, having traversed more than 900 km from headwaters in the Rocky Mountains to an area east of Leask, Sask.
The group of 11 people, almost all of them Indigenous, plan to carry the water to the fork of the North and South Saskatchewan rivers.
Thursday marked the 33rd day of the walk.
Marjorie Beaucage, a Métis Two-Spirit elder, said their message is that water is a sacred element, rather than a resource.
During the walk, the water is constantly in motion, just like how it moves in the river.
From the start of the walk, the group has taken roadways running along the North Saskatchewan River. Participant Tasha Beeds described it as a “very humbling experience” to see the landscape from the perspective of the river they’re praying for.
Beeds learned the tradition from the late elder Josephine-Ba Mandamin, and has been doing water walks for 11 years. This is Beeds’ first in her ancestral territory.
“Part of this ceremony for me is in recognition that I have a responsibility and an obligation for the future generations,” Beeds said.
The nine women are joined by two men, who are responsible for carrying an eagle staff. The eagle staff carriers look ahead and protect the women and Two-Spirit people who carry the water. Two-Spirit and other people who identify as LGBTQ can also carry an eagle staff.
Another walker, Kahté:raks Quinney Goodleaf, told Global News how the health and wellbeing of people are intertwined with that of the earth, land and water.
“Whatever we’re doing to ourselves, we’re doing to the earth, and whatever we’re doing to the earth, to the waters, to the lands, we’re doing to ourselves,” Quinney Goodleaf said.
“It’s that reciprocal relationship.”
A welcoming event is planned for Saturday in Prince Albert between 9 a.m. and noon along the Rotary Trail. The participants invite Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to offer their support.
When they reach the fork of the rivers east of Prince Albert in the coming days, they plan to return the water to the river and conclude the first leg of a four-year commitment.
Next year, water walkers will pick up where they left off, carrying the water to Lake Winnipeg. The following year, the trip will continue from Lake Winnipeg to halfway down the South Saskatchewan River. The final year will see the walkers return to the headwaters in the Rockies.