Mary Crate: The Water Caretakers
By Chanda Hunnie
It came to her in a dream. Every year a dream comes to Mary Crate to let her know where the water walk will be. This year it was to Lake Winnipeg.
A vessel that resembles a teapot is filled with the pure water before Mary dips her own cup into the spring to extract its sweet goodness. As she drinks she can feel the life-filled water flow through every vein in her body.
The group of women, some who know each other, and some who do not, lead the way while carefully attentive to the children behind. The day is broken by periods of balmy weather followed by frequent spells of cloud and cold. Last in this snaking formation are the men. They are the warriors and will protect the women during this time of prayer and fasting.
The water walk continues as each woman takes a turn at carrying the small copper vessel that houses pure spring water. The woman carrying the vessel, head bowed, is silent and focused within the orchestra of activity taking place. Children are bouncing along, becoming comfortable with their new friends.
Passing the copper vessel over to another, Mary Crate can now converse with the human realm and takes this opportunity to educate the children. She tells them about their Mother, the Earth. She explains that the Earth provides them with everything they need to live, and they should treat Her with the same care and respect that they treat their own mothers walking with them today.
The lesson in this teaching has impacted the thoughts of the children as told by their wide eyes and now silent dispositions. They are mulling it over in their minds and imaginations -- imaginations that do not have the difficulty adult imaginations have -- and quickly see the truth in Mary's statement.
Soon a little boy approaches Mary and he lets her know that he will tell his kids about the Earth as Mother. She smiles because she knows he will and that every one of those children will now have this teaching with them forever. In this way, knowledge will be passed on down the line of generations.
When the lake is reached, the group meanders its way to the shore. The pure waters from the vessel are poured into the lake to heal and rejuvenate its polluted waters. The children all have offerings of tobacco which are placed thoughtfully into the lapping waves. Songs are sung and are carried off by the winds.
The women extract metre-wide cloths of ranging colours from the confines of their bags. The colours represent the Earth, the water, the spirits, and the four corners. All the women climb the hill behind them and stand unified, holding the flailing fabrics over their heads. As the wind catches them, one by one they flutter down to the water.
The cloths float individually on the surface for a moment. As the women, children, and men watch, they witness the waves bringing the cloths together. The sight is compelling, as all the brilliant colours align to form a single serpentine entity. It then dives under the waves and vanishes.
The walk ends at the home of an Elder. Food is eaten to replenish and nourish the body. Stories and laughter are shared. Spirits are high though bodies are exhausted, and the day is held onto as long as possible. As children find it unwillingly difficult to remain awake, they are put to sleep and left to dream.
, from the Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society, Manitoba Chapter. Thanks to Mary and Chanda.