September 25, 2022
Name of church and location: First Congregational United Church of Christ of Menomonie
Contact person and information: Karen Miller, Director of Faith Formation
Address: 420 Wilson Avenue, Menomonie, WI 54751 email: DirFaithForm@menomonieucc.org; phone: 715-235-5838
Origins of the Project
Organized by the First Congregational UCC of Menomonie, a group of approximately 40 congregation and community members undertook a two-year study of our stewardship responsibilities as Christians to care for God’s creation, particularly in our own Red Cedar watershed. Building on the congregation’s 2019 Doctrine of Discovery and Blanket Exercise work with the Ho Chunk Nation, we invited Ho Chunk elder Ritchie Brown (“Rights of Nature”) and Ojibwe elder Sharon Day (traditional Water Walk ceremony) to share their creation care knowledge and wisdom with us. At the end of the study, participants expressed commitment to bring a traditional water walk to Lake Menomin in Menomonie in 2022.
Lake Menomin is a reservoir on the Red Cedar River in Dunn County. Its name is derived from the Ojibwe name for this lake, Manoominikaani-zaaga’igan meaning “abundant with wild rice lake.” The city of Menomonie lies along the lake’s western and southern shores. The central business district and First Congregational UCC are located at the far southern end of the lake.
The headwaters of the Red Cedar River are located in Sawyer County at Big Lake Chetac. The river flows southward through Dunn County, eventually pouring over a linked pair of working hydroelectric dams at Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin. These two impoundments trap the runoff water from a large agricultural and residential area, concentrating fertilizers and causing severe pollution. Research done by the University of Wisconsin-Stout at Menomonie indicate that the Red Cedar watershed is affected by “eutrophication” – phosphorus and nitrogen pollution, causing blue-green algae blooms and dissolved oxygen levels. The factors affecting eutrophication include agricultural practices, the geomorphic features of the watershed, lawn fertilization and leaking septic tanks.
Both lakes have very high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, which is a recipe for disaster during the long northern summers. Microscopic algae reproduce exponentially under these conditions, turning both lakes into a disgusting soup the color of canned peas. Mats of foul-smelling scum cover the surface and choke out any aquatic vegetation that might try to grow here. The Red Cedar has few large tributaries, so the polluted water remains undiluted all 14.5 miles through the two lakes until it empties into the Chippewa River (see photo on page 2).
The photo above shows the confluence in midsummer, with the pea-soup water from the Red Cedar joining the dark and clear waters of the Chippewa River. The green coloration is noticeable all the way to the Mississippi River.
Effects of Eutrophication
The state’s health agency says people have mostly complained about sore throats and watery eyes from the stench on lakes Tainter and Menomin. The blue-green algae can pose a variety of health problems like skin rashes, gastro-intestinal disorders and liver damage. The state health agency urges people and their pets to stay out of the affected lakes.
The blue green algae blooms are thick, putrid, and create poor water clarity, making it extremely difficult to fish and enjoy recreational activities during the summer months. Due to increased eutrophication problems faced by these impounded lakes, property values have not kept pace with lake property of similar qualities. This has resulted in financial harm to homeowners and the residing community that is dependent on their wealth as a tax base.
Attracting visitors to Menomonie has grown difficult and the activity on Lake Menomin has dropped significantly. This has also affected local business owners who usually thrive during the summer. According to one local merchant, “we’re an hour out of Minneapolis, we’ve got a beautiful downtown, we got Mabel Tainter theater, Red Cedar Trail, we got the rivers, but when the lake gets green and the town smells bad you don’t want to go swimming in there, you don’t want to put your boat in there, God forbid your dog falls in.”
Efforts to Mitigate Eutrophication
In October 2009 City council members received a petition with more than 250 signatures calling for the permanent cleanup of Lake Menomin. Some city officials have suggested converting a section of the lake into a wetland area.
The City of Menomonie, Dunn County Board of Supervisors, Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Tainter Menomin Lake Improvement Association (and other private organizations and federal agencies) have supported and/or undertaken multiple research projects to curb the growth of blue green algae and improve water quality. A brief sampling of these projects is documented below:
- In 2011, a project partially submerged nine 50-gallon blue barrels in Lake Menomin’s Wolske Bay. The barrels housed mesocosms, or individual environments that have varying concentrations of calcium oxide and sodium percarbonate added. Calcium oxide has been used for about 70 years as a treatment to reduce phosphates in wastewater. Sodium percarbonate has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as an algaecide.
- In 2013, and again in 2016, the Menomonie City Council looked at dredging two bays on Lake Menomin as a way to improve water quality. Dredging would remove two to three feet of sediment from the bays and would improve circulation and keep water temperature levels at an appropriate level to curb algae bloom. The City Council approved the project in 2016 at cost of $140,000.
- In 2016, the Dunn County Board of Supervisors set in motion a 10-year plan to clean up the Red Cedar River Basin and to achieve a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus that reach Lakes Tainter and Menomin in the next 10 years.
These efforts have had some success. Partnerships between citizens, local, state, and federal organizations and agencies have been built through the years, and many of these projects continue to work to bring improved water quality to the Red Cedar watershed.
Yet, today, Lake Menomin remains green (see photos on page 4). Not safe for humans or animals, the Lake’s condition evinces feelings of embarrassment and futility among Menomonie area citizens.
Planning for the Menomonie Water Walk
The Mission for Peace and Justice Committee voted to support the study group’s recommendation that a water walk be planned for the Red Cedar River and Lake Menomin in 2022. Partnering with First Congregational’s Faith Formation Office, the group secured the assistance of Sharon Day, an Ojibwe Elder and facilitator of numerous water walks across the country, to plan the 2022 Menomonie Water Walk.
First Congregational UCC and its members have a strong commitment to creation care issues, particularly around water quality which is critical for our health and future. We are also committed to expanding our relationships with Native American communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota. These communities have longstanding traditions of recognizing the sacred nature of water and we are pleased that they are an integral part of this event.
The Water Walk planning group meets weekly and includes members from the University of Wisconsin-Stout (professors and research students), the United Methodist and Lutheran church in Menomonie, members of the Quaker faith, the Ho Chunk UCC Mission Church of Black River Falls, and Menomonie Cares (a group of local citizens who work with local governments, schools, organizations and individuals to promote a safe, welcoming, inclusive community). We will rely extensively on Sharon’s advice regarding all aspects of the walk.
The organizers of The Red Cedar River/Lake Menomin Sacred Water Walk hope that this event will inspire people to reconnect with their water with hope and spiritual courage, renewing their relationship with the water and their commitment to love and save this body of water.
Traditional Ojibwe Water Walk
The traditional Ojibwe Water Walk is one of several water ceremonies practiced by Ojibwe people. Water is the manifestation of the thoughts of unconditional love of the Creator. According to the Ojibwe, there are four sacred waters of creation.
The first sacred creation is the “water of the universe,” which include the stars of the galaxies. The second sacred creation is the “spirit water of our birth,” the embryonic fluid of our mother’s womb. The third sacred creation is the “water of Mother Earth,” the rivers, lakes, oceans and rains. The fourth sacred creation is the “red Water,” the blood that flows through our bodies. About 60-70 percent of the human body is made of water. This makes us sacred people. To poison our water is to poison ourselves.
Photos courtesy of Youtube, Sept 29, 2021 Lake Menomin Dredging Results (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYQnshWbP8w (Retrieved August 14, 2022)
Women possess the power of creation because they hold life in the womb for nine months. Women, regardless of their nationality, are therefore responsible for caring for the water.
The Nibi (Ojibwe for Water) Walks are Indigenous-led, extended ceremonies to pray for the water. Every step is taken in prayer and gratitude for water, our life giving force. Sharon Day, Ojibwe elder, states, “We walk for the water, and as we heal the water we heal all of life. We are not a protest. We are a prayer for the water.”
All people are invited to participate in the walk; however, Ojibwe protocols for the Red Cedar River/Lake Menomin Sacred Water Walk will be followed:
- Women will make the offerings for the water, sing the water songs and make the petitions for our water to be pure and clean and continuously flow down to us.
- Women will carry the copper vessel holding the clean waters from the headwaters of the Red Cedar River.
- Because we are in ceremony, women wear long skirts. We wear long skirts to show our respect for the grass, for mother earth and for ourselves. Women on their moon do not carry the water during this time, as they are already in ceremony.
- Men carry the eagle feather staff, but if there are no males in attendance, then women can carry the staff.
- Men support the women as they walk.
Details of Menomonie Water Walk
After offering asemma (tobacco) and prayer, a sample of water will be collected from Big Lake Chetac, the headwaters of the Red Cedar River in Sawyer County a day prior to the walk. This water will be carried by women in a copper vessel as they walk the perimeter of Lake Menomin. The route we have chosen is approximately 8.3 miles long and begins one block south of the Lake at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Menomonie. The walk will end at LaPointe Park, which is a short distance past our starting point, because it offers the best access to Lake Menomin. The water in the copper vessel will be “offered” in prayer to Lake Menomin, reminding the Lake of its pristine origins. The Walk ends after the water is emptied into Lake Menomin.
Invitations to participate in the Water Walk have been extended to local faith groups, environmental and conservation organizations, the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and to the Ho Chunk Mission Church community in Black River Falls. Event information and updates are being posted on local social media and in printed publications. Sharon Day has also posted the event on her website NibWalk.org so it is possible that we will draw people from the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area.
Participants are welcome to walk any length of the 8.3 mile loop. Transportation will be available at several points along the route to return walkers to the church. Other activities will be held at the church for those who choose not to walk, and for those who are doing a partial walk.
Time period for project completion:
Planning for the Water Walk started in May, 2022. The planning team consists of twelve core members representing various organizations within the Menomonie community.
The Water Walk will be completed on Sunday, September 25 between the hours of 12:00 pm and 7 pm. Program activities, including the Water Walk, will run from 1 to 4:30 p.m. A gratitude ceremony will run from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. A traditional Ojibwe meal consisting of wild rice soup, fry bread, blueberries and beverages will run from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Our tentative schedule is printed on page 7.
WATER – LIFE TO ALL LIFE
RED CEDAR RIVER / LAKE MENOMIN SACRED WATER WALK SCHEDULE
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2022
12:00 – 1:00 PM
Welcome/Smudge/Prayer ……………………………………………………………… First Congregational UCC Parking Lot
1:00 – 4:30 PM
Water Walk ……………………………………………………………………………………. Lake Menomin 8.3 mile Loop
Activities for Those Not Walking
- Videos (approximately 2 hours)
- Sacred Water Teachings: Gichitwaa Nibi – Sacred Waters Water Teachings by Elder Dorothy Taylor (11:52)(2021) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrR5cLTboSU)
- Algonquin Water Song: Women, Water Carriers and Protectors (4:05)(2018)( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDGWuPUH5_A)
- Sing the Water Song (4:24)(2018) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KC2FHciQ0sU)
- My Body of Water Exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (10:15) (2021) (http://www.nibiwalk.org/art-exhibit/)
- Water is Earth’s Blood: The Old and New Paradigms to Restore Our Planet’s Health (17:20)(2022) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vik4vUN3SPI)(17:20)
- Nibi Walk Orientation (60:00)(2021)( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGNtB-5AN6c)
- Nibi Walk Mississippi River (4:42)(2014) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvKqcnH_mQg)
- Salt River Nibi Walk (18:32)(2020) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJgmlcClzGg)
- God is in the Water (3:07)(2019) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bSSOXAS0-c)
- Children’s Book Reads:
- The Water Walker (Nibi Emosaawdang) by Joanne Robertson
- We Are the Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom
- Children/Adult Creative Water Prayer Activities
- We Are Water Protector Activity Kits/Sheets, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, Learn from Play, and Indigenous Resource Inclusion Learning
- Teach Algonquin Water Song
- Live Stream of Water Walk Closing Ceremony at LaPointe Park
4:30 – 5:00 PM
Gratitude and Thanks …………………………………………………………………….. First Congregational UCC Fellowship Hall
5:00 – 6:30 PM
Ojibwe Meal ………………………………………………………………………………….. First Congregational UCC Fellowship Hall
- Wild Rice Soup, Fry Bread, Blueberries, Coffee, Tea & WATER!
- Algae in lakes near Menomonie causes health concerns. See: email@example.com published Sept 18, 2009. Retrieved Aug 9, 2022.
- Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin: The Impact of Diminishing Water Quality on Value. University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Fiscal and Economic Research Center. See: https://www.uww.edu/Documents/colleges/cobe/ferc/TainterLakes.pdf
- Algae hurting Menomonie tourism. · Travis Nyhus Dunn County News, Aug 23, 2019. Reported in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram at https://www.leadertelegram.com/news/local/algae-hurting-menomonie-tourism/article_a6b1c437-f357-5287-94b5-202f810baad6.html. Retrieved Aug 9, 2022.
- Menomonie residents petition for blue-green algae cleanup of Lake Menomin. St. Paul Pioneer Press, Oct 22, 2009 (https://www.twincities.com/2009/10/22/menomonie-residents-petition-for-blue-green-algae-cleanup-of-lake-menomin/). Retrieved Aug 9, 2022.
- Sacred Water Teachings: Gichitwaa Nibi – Sacred Waters Water Teachings by Elder Dorothy Taylor (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrR5cLTboSU)
- NibiWalk. http://www.nibiwalk.org/