Watery Ceremony

Lily Smith, 11, welcomed guests at a Wednesday night water ceremony held at Depot Park, located at 200 SE Depot Ave., by smudging them with sage. At the ceremony, about 30 people sang, danced and discussed the importance of the four elements — especially water.

Catie Wegman / Alligator Staff

To ward off bad spirits and keep her group protected, third-generation water carrier and 11-year-old Lily Smith smudged guests with sage at a Wednesday night water ceremony at Depot Park, located at 200 SE Depot Ave.

In the first of many rituals to celebrate Depot Park’s water purification system, two Grandmothers from indigenous tribes shared songs, poems and blessings to honor the importance of the four elements: water, air, fire and earth.

Promoting the idea that “water is life,” Grandmother Mary Lyons of Minnesota and Grandmother Doreen Bennett of New Zealand have traveled the globe performing similar water ceremonies, where they sing, dance and explain how humans have deviated from the importance of water.

In the past year, worried that they would jeopardize clean drinking water and indigenous land, Alachua County residents have taken to parking lots and street corners to protest the Dakota Access and Sabal Trail pipelines. The Sabal Trail pipeline, a 515-mile natural-gas pipeline running through Alabama, Georgia and Florida, has spurred many recent protests in North Central Florida, according to Alligator archives. The Dakota Access pipeline, which carries crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, leaked 84 gallons of oil in April, according to The Washington Post.

On Wednesday night, Lyons explained to about 30 people that humans are made up of the four elements, which play a vital role in our lives. She said when conceived, we are entered into water in our mothers’ womb. After birth, we breathe the air. The sun is fire, which warms us and sustains life. Finally, we are plants of the Earth, and it is where we grow.

“The only thing we can honestly pass onto the next generation are those four messages,” Lyons said. “Those four messages carry no prejudice.”

Cindi Harvey, Depot Park’s manager, said the park is part of a man-made water treatment system that extensively purifies stormwater before it becomes drinking water for residents.  

“It makes me really proud of our city and what we’re doing to our stormwater before it becomes our drinking water,” Harvey said. “We’re doing a lot to protect our citizens.”

The part of the water purification system that is located in Depot Park is the “heartbeat” of the park, Harvey said. It makes visitors recognize how great it is to have a city that thoroughly cleanses its stormwater before it becomes drinkable.

“This water ceremony is honoring the heartbeat of Depot Park, and something that is very important for our city,” Harvey said.

Gainesville resident Eleanor Briseno said this was very important because these forces of nature are in jeopardy because of the lack of commitment to uphold them.

Briseno said she thought bringing the Grandmothers to Gainesville was a good idea because of the water purification system that goes through Depot Park.

“I hope it’s a consciousness raising event,” Briseno said. “I hope that it’s also bringing (guests) into another realm of sacred understanding, connections and appreciation.”


Staff Writer

Third-year journalism student at the University of Florida. Go Gators, go journalism and, most importantly, go Bento.