OKEECHOBEE– A 110-mile prayer walk around Lake Okeechobee organized by Betty Osceola of the Miccosukee Tribe passed through the Lock 7 Recreation Area in Okeechobee on Feb. 8.
The group is making the trip around the lake to pray for the waters of Lake Okeechobee and for humanity to reconnect to the natural world again.
The walk started at John Stretch Park near Lake Harbor south of the lake on Feb. 6.
A prayer walk around the entire lake was first held two years ago on Jan. 26, 2019. In an interview with Manny Moreno of wildhunt.org, Betty described the initial conception of the prayer walk after holding a prayer vigil in 2018.
After that vigil, she said “We really got the feeling that we need to walk around the lake. Pray for the Lake, around the lake.”
A short time later, a group made the trek around the lake to help raise awareness about water quality issues in both the Okeechobee and Everglades.
Starting at John Stretch Park on Feb. 6, the group made it to over 50 miles to Port Mayaca by Feb. 7. After walking through the day, the group would set up camp near the dike at night. Brad Phares offered the group some of his property as a camping ground on the trip.
By the morning of Feb. 9, they crossed the Kissimmee River on the northeast side of the lake.
A month earlier, Betty helped organized a walk to protest a recent decision by the federal government to allow the State of Florida to take over administration of parts of the Clean Water Act. The change gives the state the authority to issue dredge and fill permits previously issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“In doing this,” Betty explained before the walk, “the EPA is allowing the definition of Indian territory/country to be redefined over the objections of the Indian tribes here in Florida and abroad, in essence undermining tribal sovereignty and diminishing the size of tribal lands.”
The hashtag #DefendTheSacred was created for the protest to help those who were in solidarity with the movement have a way to tag their posts on social media.
While the Defend The Sacred walk was over 36 miles, the walk around Lake Okeechobee requires an increased level of resilience, which Betty made clear to those who wanted to join.
“This prayer walk will be most arduous and will test you physically and mentally,” she warned. “Therefore, it is not for everyone. We welcome and encourage prayer warriors from near and the world abroad to join us daily with prayer from the safety of your homes. Anyone joining this walk will be expected to follow our code of conduct and will be asked to leave the walk if they are disruptive and put the rest of the group at risk.”
Along with praying for Lake Okeechobee and raising awareness of water quality, many on the prayer walk wear a red bandanna on their wrists or walking sticks to also bring attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The group of prayer walkers is attempting to return to their starting point at John Stretch Park on Feb. 12.