Indigenous Leaders Walk to Protect Water

Photo credit: Crystal Cavalier-Keck
Photo credit: Crystal Cavalier-Keck

On Sunday, May 2, 2021, over 90 teams of walkers, runners, cyclists, and paddlers participated in a Water Walk from Virginia to North Caroline to protect local water sources and sacred sites from the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). Organized by an Indigenous-led coalition of grassroots organizations and activistsincluding U.S. Accelerator Alumni Crystal Cavalier-Keck (Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation) and Desirée Shelley Flores (Monacan)this action represented the care, persistence and collaborative spirit of women-led environmental and climate solutions.

The proposed 303 miles of the MVP threatens sacred Indigenous lands and burial sites, endangers critical water sources of more than 700 thousand people, and violates the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. Community, cultural, and ecosystem health and safety are all at stake with this destructive proposal. While gas and investment companies are focused on profit, there is a growing movement of grassroots leaders standing together to disrupt the dangerous and unjust systems that threaten our collective well-being now, and into the future. 


Crystal and Desirée are two of the key leaders in the efforts to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Desirée is a community organizer with Mothers Out Front and Crystal is the co-founder of 7 Directions of Service  seeking environmental justice and restoration in their perspective communities. Together they're both apart of a powerful climate coalition in Virginia and North Carolina. As members of WEA’s Global Alliance, they are both seedkeepers, land and water protectors who met through fellow U.S. Accelerator Leader Beth Roach (Nottoway) and their work through the Alliance of Native Seed Keepers. In WEA’s recent Earth Day gathering, Who CAREs? A Conversation on Feminist Climate Action, Desirée explains how the MVP construction disrupts Indigenous burial mounds, Black slave cemeteries, and historic cultural sites. Because both of Crystal and Desirée’s families, neighborhoods, tribes, sacred sites, and Indigenous lifeways are directly impacted by the MVP, they are deeply committed to ensuring the safety of this region.

Photo credit: Crystal Cavalier-Keck
Photo credit: Crystal Cavalier-Keck

Though the Water Walk was organized to be an entirely peaceful event, participants did face intimidation and delays while canvassing and handing out informational postcards, when law enforcement was called and pipeline supporters revved their car engines and spun tires to kick up rocks at Walkers. However, these scare tactics and abuse didn’t change the spirit of the coalition, which remained a prayerful, peaceful, and persistent movement to protect the sacred. 

At a celebratory rally, coalition members reinforced their commitment to confronting the MVP in the name of safeguarding water sources and sacred spaces. Sun Sing Collective and a native drum group played music, and supporters poured out prayers and water collected at the start of the journey. 

The Water Walk is an example of the transformative power of grassroots collective action, communal solidarity, and care for both people and planet. With Crystal and Desirée’s hard work and collaboration, hundreds of people learned about the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and the devastating impact extractive industry has on our communities. If you missed the Water Walk, but would like to learn more about the MVP and Crystal and Desirée’s work, take a look at this blog post and video explaining more of their background and impact.

Water is life.


  1. […]  Dr. Crystal Cavalier, Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, working to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline through her territory in what is called North Carolina, Suzaatah Horinek, Ponca, and Teyana Viscarra shared powerful personal experiences of Missing Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and children work in their communities, especially prevalent where fossil fuel man camps are present.   […]

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