LAKE LANIER ISLANDS - Native Americans and others completed a 10-day "Walk for the Water" this week along the Chattahoochee River, which some estimates say will dry up completely by 2025 due to pressure from the rapidly growing city of Atlanta.
"We have a problem with water," Gary Fourstar, of Assiniboine and Ohlone lineage and one of the event founders, told IPS. "States are fighting over rights. Water has become like everything else: a commodity rather than being given to us freely by the creator and used as it was meant to be. It is being used for commercial purposes... It becomes a resource, and like all resources is to be used up rather than taken care of."
The journey is part of a movement conceived of by Robertjohn Knapp, of Talabalaba Sioux lineage, in 1988 to raise awareness of humanity to care for the environment. Mohawk, Shoshone, Dine, Cherokee, Creek, and about 15 other tribes were also represented.
"We no longer give thanks for anything," Knapp said. "This is what this is about... Wacaires (wah-kah-res) is a word that we have created to mean doing something to show you care individually or in a group... Love is caring for something. To love the Earth you have to care for it."
The Chattahoochee River begins in the mountains of northeast Georgia, running southwest past Atlanta and through its suburbs, then down into Florida.
Atlanta uses and dumps about 450 to 500 million gallons of wastewater in the Chattahoochee each day, according to Cynthia Barnett, author of "Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S.". However, instead of seeking sustainable water management policies, the governors of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida are continuing a 30-plus-year fight over water rights to the Chattahoochee.
"Traditional people, Native Americans and others who have followed the traditional ways, are attuned to the natural world and know we have to respect, honour, and take care of the natural world. And the perspective permeates the life of Native Americans. They're trying to bring to light and build a bridge to people other than Native Americans. It's a have-to," said Debora Fourstar, wife of Gary Fourstar.
The walk began in north Georgia on Jun. 1 at the source of the Chattahoochee River in the town of Unicoi. The walkers continued down the headwaters of the Chattahoochee to Lake Lanier Island, and then on to the Georgia Capitol building in downtown Atlanta.
On Monday, closing ceremonies were held followed by a presentation by Dr. Masaru Emoto entitled "Message from the Water," at the Georgia World Congress Centre.
Dr. Emoto and his work on water crystal formations were featured in the independent film "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" Emoto recently had a New York Times bestselling book, "The Hidden Messages in Water".
He discussed the way in which frozen water crystals seem to respond with pleasant formations to beautiful music; speeches by famous humanists such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and exposure to pictures and encouraging words written on containers.
He claims they form unattractive formations in response to unpleasant words.
Despite the criticism and leery reaction to Dr. Emoto's findings within the scientific community, there is a strong moral imperative that resonates with people of many faiths as well as secular pragmatists. His belief that God is expressed in water, which has a life of its own, is a component of both Shinto belief and the beliefs of aboriginal peoples.
"Beautiful thoughts can transform things so they become beautiful," says Dr. Emoto.
The belief that water is a gift, which must be respected and loved, has particular relevance when the world is faced with a looming water crisis.
"So we are here to talk to the water, we are here to say we are going to take care of it, we are here to say thank you to the water, to the creator. Water is alive, it hears our words, and responds to our speaking, to our thoughts, and to our words. The creator made nothing dead. We cannot separate ourselves from living things. We are all part of the same world," Gary Fourstar said.
"There are three aspects of love," Knapp said. Love, he explained, was not a feeling but an agreement that you will care for something.
"First there is recognition that we are going to care for the water. Then respect for the water by caring for it. Finally it involves taking responsibility and not blaming others," Knapp said.
"There is a forgiveness that I think we have to ask for," Gary Fourstar added. "If you do something wrong, then you ask for forgiveness. If you don't ask for forgiveness, then you are doomed to perpetuate the action because you are in denial that it ever took place. If we continue to pollute the water, then we are doomed to repeat it. And we are repeating it -- and the water is dying."
In an opinion piece published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week, Sally Bethea, executive director of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper conservation group, noted that "Local governments in metro Atlanta welcome and approve new developments on a daily basis, with little certainty that water will be available for newcomers in the decades to come. There is talk about water conservation, but no funded incentives and mandates from state leaders. In fact, the only new conservation measure passed in the 2008 legislative session was a three-day sales-tax holiday on water-efficient appliances."
But some lawmakers appear to be taking heed. At the beginning of April, the Georgia State Senate adopted a resolution commending the Many Horses Foundation for organising the walk.
"There are a lot of humans running around the Earth but very few human beings. You have to work to become a human being to take care of life. So we are here to take care of life and become human beings," Gary Fourstar said.
Alice Gordon is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2008 Inter Press Service