‘The Gift of Water’

Focusing on water in a spiritual way goal of talk

Lake Gogebic is the largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula, affording numerous recreation opportunities to visitors as well as a place to enjoy water in a wilderness setting. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — As an upcoming public service announcement says: “We bathe with it. We cook with it. We drink it. But do we protect it?”

“The Gift of Water: Perspectives from the Native American World” was the title of a talk given by Scott Herron, Ph.D., ethnobotanist at Ferris State University, Friday at Messiah Lutheran Church.

The event was coordinated by the Northern Great Lakes Water Stewards, an interfaith initiative formed in partnership with The Cedar Tree Institute to promote a deeper awareness of streams and lakes in northern Michigan.

April Lindala, director of the Center for Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University, said: “It is this time of year — spring — when the ice breaks and the rivers run, many tribal peoples go to the water and give offerings and gifts to the water for all it provides.”

The audience didn’t go to the Dead River or McCarty’s Cove to make a water offering, but it listened raptly to the talk given by Herron, a member of the Odawa Indian community and co-chairman of the Great Lakes Regional Native Wild Rice Coalition.

Samples of wild rice are available to the public after “The Gift of Water” presentation at Messiah Lutheran Church of Marquette. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

“We kind of take it for granted,” Herron said of water. “We can drive through this. We can shovel this. We can drink this. We know what it does, but the sacredness of water, is clear to me that that’s not a conversation that is happening.”

His presence at the church was a way of getting that conversation going, at least locally.

Everybody has the responsibility to be involved in water stewardship, he said, and that can involve some introspection and individuality.

“How can I honor water? I don’t expect everyone to honor water the same way,” Herron said.

However, he stressed that the Great Lakes should not be thought of as something that can take care of itself, considering its vastness.

Scott Herron, Ph.D., an ethnobotanist at Ferris State University, speaks on “The Gift of Water” during a special presentation coordinated by the Northern Great Lakes Water Stewards Friday at Messiah Lutheran Church in Marquette. The evening focused on the importance of water from a spiritual standpoint. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

Herron said: “I think that literally, every day or every week, we need to be asking ourselves, ‘What can we do for my area?’ For me and my community, we go and we make sure that we clean up along the water, because we don’t want those bags in the water. We don’t want rusty things in the water.”

Monitoring the situation regarding Enbridge Inc.’s aging Line 5, which crosses the Straits of Mackinac, might be some people’s focus, he said.

It also can be as simple as starting the day with a glass of water.

“It doesn’t have to be part of a religious situation,” Herron said. “It could just be ‘I’m honoring that water.'”

He did acknowledge that most people don’t want to take on water stewardship alone.

“In Marquette, if your biggest issue is figuring out how to clean up the local water, or if it’s trying to keep our certain multi-national companies that want to mine things and pollute water, then to coalesce,” Herron said.

That could involve sitting down around mines of the past or various watersheds, he said.

So, what’s next?

“Realize that we’re now in a place and time that is on a transition,” Herron said. “None of us know what’s coming, but we sure know that we need the fire, and we need the water.”

Prayer and action can play a part, he said, and that can involve signing a petition or protest a pipeline.

And it’s all up to the individual.

“Let’s model good stuff for our kids,” Herron said.

Michigan has received water-related national attention, and not in a good way, for the water problems plaguing Flint, whose people had been drinking lead-contaminated water and suffered health problems as a result.

The remedy is slow in coming, with residents still using bottled water.

“They’re sick of the plastic,” Herron said. “They don’t know what to do with it. They want the pipes to be taken care of. They want to trust they can drink that water.”

He doesn’t believe Gov. Rick Snyder and his administration can solve the problem or admit fault.

However, Herron pointed out residents can make a change by electing a new governor who, if so inclined, could do his or her job or eliminate the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which was involved in the Flint situation.

Following Herron’s talk, Haley Bussell and Jordan Mattarella, Northern Michigan University interns for the NGLWS, took the stage for an introduction of the 10 public service announcements they wrote on behalf of the Water Stewards that will be distributed to radio stations throughout the Upper Peninsula.

One stated: “Did you know that less than 1 percent of the water on Earth is fit for human use? Ninety-nine percent of Earth’s water is saltwater or permanently frozen. As Earth’s population grows, more people are using this finite source. That is why it’s important to use our water wisely and not to waste it.

“So, don’t let the water run. Turn off the tap when you’re not using the water. Be kind to the environment. Use water wisely.”

For more information about the NGLWS, visit www.cedartreeinstitute.org.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.