Water is the First Life
In the fall of 2016, I was swept into the Standing Rock water protector movement by the words of Kandi Mossett, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations.
“Women, in my culture, are the keepers of the water. Men are the keepers of the fire. It’s no coincidence that when we’re pregnant, we carry our babies in water. And the understanding is that water is the first life. It’s our very essence. Our very being is made up of water. Flows through us. And it flows through from the rivers, to the sky, back down in that circular way. And it’s an understanding of the cycle and the natural order of things.
It’s just so much bigger, though, than just one pipeline. It’s the fossil fuel industry. It’s ultimately going to be something that comes back on us as humanity.
It doesn’t matter the color of our skin, it doesn’t matter our religious background, when we desecrate the water, we desecrate ourselves.
We’re all, as women, going to keep on holding that line, pushing forward. Hold the line for water. And for life.”
Her words resonate deeply. I carried and birthed a daughter. Clean, pure, healthy water is needed by every person and deserved by every child. Ordinary water becomes extraordinary in the Sacrament of Baptism.
As an Oregonian, I know well the cycle of rain, evaporation and more rain. I have followed a river downstream where fresh and salt water mix in estuaries. Privileged with good water to drink, I am sad when I hear of people and places without safe, plentiful water. I become angry when greed and carelessness cause water shortages and pollute streams and aquifers.
On this day when we celebrate the birth of Mary's son, I think of the water, the umbilical fluid, which cushioned Jesus' donkey ride in his mother's womb and burst forth signaling the time of delivery; the water that bathed the newborn child; and the water which quenched Mary's thirst, hydrating her body so she could produce milk to feed her baby.
In Kandi Mossett’s words,
“I am protecting the very essence of what I am made up of which is mostly water.
I am protecting that for my future generations – All those who can’t speak for themselves. Not just the babies but everything that flies in the sky, all those that swim in the waters, the four-leggeds. Somebody has to speak on their behalf because they don’t have a voice."
Prayer: For Christmas this year, may all of God’s children have safe, pure water. Together, may we be prophetic voices to protect water for all. Water is life. Amen.
Kathy Keener is interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Pendleton, Oregon. She grew up in Oregon’s ‘Ecotopia’ and attempts to integrate sustainable practices in her life.
Kandi Mossett is a Mandan-Hidatsa-Arika warrior mother from the Fort Berthold Reservation in South Dakota. She works with the Indigenous Environmental Network.