Water walkers and basket-making


The Water Walkers came walking along the northern border of the Fond du Lac Reservation. This group was carrying a copper bucket of nibi (water) from the Pacific Ocean. They were going to join with walkers who were carrying water from the Atlantic Ocean, the Carribean and the Pacific Ocean. They were going to meet at the Bad River Reservation in northern Wisconsin.

While driving to meet them on Highway 2, I thought of the water I used to carry.

I was young, maybe eleven years old when I was introduced to carrying nibi. The house we lived in did not have running water. That was when, as the oldest boy in the family, I learned it was my duty to go after nibi. We had electricity but no running water. There was ten kids running around but we had no running water. Year after year I supplied the water for my family. I carried so much nibi I thought my name was Nadoobii.

The nearest water was at my Gramma’s brother’s house. My great-uncle had a well and a pump. Jim Blacketter said we could use his pump and get all the nibi we needed.

I would use two cream cans, both about 35 gallons in size. I would use the hand pump to fill a bucket and pour it into the cream cans. I continued pumping and pouring until the cream cans were full. In the spring, summer, and fall of the year I would use a wagon to transport the nibi. In the winter I used either a sled or toboggan.

I really disliked clothes washing and bath days, with that many kids in the house it was always someone’s turn to take a bath. I didn’t feel sorry for myself, it wouldn’t have done any good so I just carried water.

I found the Shinnobs carrying nibi just west of Floodwood. I saw a man carrying an eagle staff and a woman carrying a small bucket of water. They were walking along the shoulder of the road with a pick up in front and one behind. I joined the group and idled along behind the last truck. I recognized some of the people in the group. I saw my indoozhimis, my sister Doris’ daughter. We call her Debbie Do. I also saw Lynn Olson from Fond du Lac. Esther Humprey from Leech Lake was also part of the nibi carriers. The women looked proud when it was their turn to carry the water.

A couple of days later I motored to Onigamiinsing (Duluth) to take part in the welcoming ceremony for the nibi walkers. I met old friends and made new ones I think. The Oshkii Giizhig singers were there to lend their hand drums and voices to add to the festivities. There was a feast waiting when the speechifying was done. Duluth Mayor Don Ness read a City Proclamation talking about the importance of water. I ate good.

I didn’t go to the Bad River Reservation where there was a ceremony to blend the nibi from the four great bodies of water. It was time for me to make baskets so I stayed home and did that.

I think the nibi walkers accomplished their mission of making people aware of how important water is. As they said, nibi is sacred.

**** As I mentioned it is time to make baskets. My sons have been very helpful in gathering the raw materials for nooshkachinaaganike.

One day sons Matthew and Aaron and I went to our secret location for good bark. It was a little early in the season and each tree had to be coaxed to give up the bark.

We made an offering of tobacco before we started gathering. I was able to show my sons how patience and a sharp knife are used to slowly remove the bark. We gathered about 15 good sheets of bark.

I brought the bark home and my wife Pat, and I examined it closely. I laid out and formed the baskets and she sewed the corners up. I then attached the willow sticks and used them as a guide to cut away the parts that didn’t look like a basket. Pat then sewed the characteristic “V” stitch around the top rim to finish the basket. They sure look good hanging on my wall but they won’t stay there long, someone always buys whatever we make. I wonder where this year’s baskets will end up.

Now the 3rd Annual Ojibwe Language camp is just hours away. The planning is over and my phone has been ringing constantly with people wanting more information or directions. Next month’s Follies will have detailed information about what happened at the camp.

**** Mii iw. Mii sa iw