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Group fighting water pollution stops in area


Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson

Celeste Noah, from left, of the Delaware Nation, Pauline Shirt of the Cree Nation and Neejig Shognosh of Walpole Island, Ontario, walk along U.S. Highway 2 west of Havre for the annual Mother Earth Water Walk 2011.

Neejig Shognosh wasn't sure what he was getting into when his girlfriend, Celeste Noah, convinced him to take part in a Mother Earth Water Walk.

"She just told me to," he said, laughing.

And today the Washington state Native American believes passionately in the pure, safe water, the message Mother Earth Walk hopes to present to all parts of the United States and Canada.

Concerned about impure drinking water, the walkers are taking part in a nationwide effort to raise awareness.

The members of the walk believe they are just the ones to bring the message. They are Native Americans, and most are women. Native Americans have a special bond with the water. Like many religions, water holds special meaning in most Native religions. And women, as carriers of life, have a special bond with water, said Pauline Shirt, the oldest woman on the walk. She said she is participating not for herself but "for these people," she said, pointing to the younger people in her troupe.

Six members of the walk were in Havre this week, trekking down the Hi-Line from the Pacific Ocean on their way to Wisconsin.

There, the walkers will meet up with three similar groups that started their walks on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Each group is carrying water from their body of water to Wisconsin.

They spent time in Rocky Boy on Wednesday and Thursday before heading east toward Saskatchewan, Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota before ending up in Wisconsin.

Most of the participants will walk part of the way and then pass on their duties to others.

The walkers have been encouraged by the greetings they have received on reservations and from folks in towns along the way.

"People are always honking their horns in support," Shonosh said.

They were especially moved when the Blackfeet cordially invited them in, fed them, provided hospitality and then gave them a blessing as they departed.

But they have met the same kind of greetings throughout, Shognosh said.

"We have never had to buy a meal," Shognosh said. "Everywhere we go, people feed us."

One man stopped them as they passed, asking what they were doing. When they explained, he left, went home, and asked his wife to prepare a meal for the walkers.

Along the way, they follow the one main rule of the Mother Earth Walk — they have a good time.

"Laughter is essential to the journey," the rules read.

The walkers feel passionately that the water problem is the most serious issue facing the planet. They tell stories of people who have been sickened by drinking impure water, and they are convinced the situation will get far worse unless there is more public awareness.

"It's scary," said Dyan Bottcher. "Unless something is done, she warned, water will become so expensive many people will not be able to buy it.

"We don't want to have to pay for water," she said.

The world is small, and all of the world's water is interconnected, said Paula Grove. She is worried about water contaminated by the nuclear power plant contamination in Japan.

"These problems may soon affect us," she said.

She said that once people become aware of water problems, they become more aware of the environment at large.

Montanans, she said, have a special reason to want to preserve the environment.

"You are so blessed," she told a reporter. "As we walked down Highway 2, I was thinking how wonderful, how wide open this space is. Not everyone has this."

But they were saddened by the trash they saw along the highway.

"It's sad," said Grove. "People can be so careless."


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