As the Animas River reflected the golden Sunday sunrise, Kenny Frost and Lyndreth Wall, prayed that the waterway would heal from recent heavy-metal pollution.
“Water is life; water is sacred,” said Frost, a Southern Ute Sun Dance Chief.
A heron soared over the river, as Frost and Wall, a Ute Mountain Ute, sang and prayed in Ute for the river.
About 20 people from all over the region came to be a part of the blessing at Santa Rita Park. At the same time, groups in other parts of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Germany and Canada also prayed for the health of local and global waterways.
Frost hopes the blessing of the river can lead to an annual Indigenous Water Prayer Day, which would be held on the third Sunday of August. Internationally, it would draw attention to rivers and other waterways at risk from pollution. Locally, it would be a reminder of how the river ran orange this month and the potential for it to happen again.
“The danger is still there,” he said.
A contract crew for the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally released about 3 million gallons of metal-laden water from the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5 in Silverton. The pollution flowed into the Animas River and later the San Juan River, temporarily closing both.
The Gold King is one of many mines near Silverton that was never reclaimed, and it still drains wastewater.
Frost gave the EPA a passing reference but chose to focus on healing the river and the importance of keeping rivers pure.
“We’re not going to blame anyone because we want to keep everything positive,” Frost said.
However, he did express skepticism about the safety of the river water, noting ongoing health advisories. Everyone is still advised to wash with soap and water after coming in contact with discolored river sediment.
He also highlighted the hardship that the pollution caused for those in New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation, where communities temporarily lost their water source for crops and livestock after the spill.
“This touched our sisters, our brothers, our neighbors to the south,” he said.
One resident of the Navajo Nation, Edward Joe, drove from Shiprock to be a part of the ceremony because so many regional farmers have been unable to use the water.
“I want to make it right for everybody,” he said.
After songs and prayer, Frost closed the ceremony by inviting everyone to bless the river by pouring in bottles of pure water and sprinkling handfuls of crushed corn over it.
“We all depend on water together; without water, there is no life,” he said.
Praying for the river has been a regular part of life for Durangoan Tamsen Wiltshire since the spill. She hoped praying with the group would add strength to the blessing.
“There’s power in prayer,” she said.