‘Water Is Life Walk’: An Indigenous Sacred Ceremony of Connection and Healing

Interview with Carole Bubar-Blodgett, aka Spirit Hawk, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

From mid-May to mid-June, an indigenous woman completed her eighth Water is Life Walk, from the source of the Housatonic River in western Massachusetts to the river’s mouth in Stratford, Connecticut, at Long Island Sound. Carole Bubar-Blodgett, who goes by the name Spirit Hawk, translated from Lakota, traces her matriarchal lineage through the Penobscot nation and belongs to the defined-out-of-existence band of the Penobscot people. She says, “Like many who have been assimilated it’s very difficult to prove lineage when you’re trying to hide your children from boarding schools and you try to hide their heritage in order to do that.” Spirit Hawk is an adopted Lakota from the Sicangu band and follows the Lakota Sun Dance Way of Life.
Bubar-Blodgett stopped at many places along the river, including dams which have heavily damaged the riverine ecosystem, to say prayers and “feed” the river with handfuls of wild rice, corn meal, cranberries and tobacco, each signifying a staple of indigenous culture.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus participated in the walk for three days through northwest Connecticut in the hills of the Berkshires, where signs were posted everywhere not to eat the fish or even step in the water due to contamination by PCBs dumped years ago into the water by General Electric from its plant in Pittsfield near the source of the Housatonic. What follows is an excerpt from a longer interview with Bubar-Blodgett.

CAROLE BUBAR-BLODGETT: The shortest river I’ve done was the Quinnebog River and that’s the water that my grandchildren and I live in.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And that’s in what state?

CAROLE BUBAR-BLODGETT: Connecticut and Massachusetts. And so, it’s a 72-mile river with 18 dams. Dams are very destructive to our waterways because they obstruct the natural flow of water, the cleansing process of the water. The way the water cycle works is, everything flows to the ocean; deep within the ocean are places where the water is sucked down under and kept down underground for years and years and years, before it comes out through our artesian wells and our springs – kind of like the blowhole of a whale; you know, the whale sucks the water in, filters out what it wants, and blows out the rest through its blowhole, and that’s kind of what springs and artesian wells do.

So, we can’t have healthy rivers, and to make this a little bit easier to understand – if the doctor told you you had 18 clots in your left leg, but don’t worry, they’ve been there a long time, I don’t think many people would be very excited about the fact they had 18 clots in their legs. And it’s the same thing; these rivers are the blood veins of Mother Earth, so we need to see her as a living being, and that those waters flow through her the same way our blood flows through us, so she can’t continue to be healthy if we continue to obstruct the flow of her waters.

And then the longest I did was the Cheyenne River, probably physically the most difficult walk, from Thunder Basin Grasslands in Wyoming halfway across South Dakota. And absolutely beautiful. Hot – I like it hot so that wasn’t an issue – but physically challenging because of the terrain.

BETWEEN THE LINES: In the few days I’ve spent with you, I would say the one lesson I’ve gotten loud and clear is unity. And you’ve talked about this in different ways a lot times, and I’d like you to talk about some of the problems and maybe what you see as the solution.

CAROLE BUBAR-BLODGETT: First and foremost, over the seven years of me walking the water, it has become very clear to me that the real problem with our water is not all the companies dumping things in the river; it’s not all the runoff from the agricultural departments; it’s not the sewage treatment plants right along the side of the river that when you get a heavy rainfall the ponds will fill up and it just spills into the water. All of those things contribute, but the real problem is our lack of connection to the water. We have forgotten that water is our source of life; we see it only as a resource now, to be bought and sold. And we think nothing of going in and buying a bottle of water any more than we would think of going and buying a bottle of milk.

Water is our source of life; without it we can’t live. And we need to pick up that understanding that it’s our source again. When we do that, water is trying to teach us so many lessons, but the number one lesson it is trying to teach us is to come together. If you go to a confluence and you see the two rivers coming together, mingling together, they’re not fighting over “This is my territory; that’s your territory.” They just come together and they start to meld together right along the edge and just blend together. There’s no “Get over, this is my space. Get over, this is my space,” which is what we see in our everyday life here. If I take a glass of water and I pour a few drops from my glass of water into your glass of water, there’s no way you can tell me what was your water and I can tell you what was my water. And water just comes together and it’s instantly one; it moves and flows as one. That’s what we, as a human family, need to learn to do. We need to erase the lines that we use to separate ourselves. It doesn’t matter. This is all faiths, all people, one prayer for our water. It doesn’t matter what religion you are or if you’re no religion. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how young you are, what sex you are, what color you are. Trees are trees; they come in many different sizes and shapes; end of the day a tree is a tree; end of the day, we’re all a human family; we’re all human beings. We need to come back as one human family, and move and flow as one human family, and then we can get the rhythm of the earth back where she needs to be and live in harmony with her, and until we do begin to live in harmony with her we are just going to suffer more and more from these increased storms and the severity of these storms, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes – we just have to find the balance again.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I know we have to end so we can get started on the walk. Is there anything you want to say that we didn’t talk about already?

CAROLE BUBAR-BLODGETT: Not that I can think of. Just honor your water. Water is life but it’s even more than that – we are the water, and the water is us. It birthed us, so honor that source from where you came, and just love it. It loves you. It’s going to give and give and give. It even gives to the ones who pollute it the most. It never holds back. So give it the love it gives you.

Learn more about the “Sacred Water Walks” by visiting waterislifewalk.org.

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