June 2010


By Patrick Nunnally on June 2, 2010 10:42 AM |

Wherever you go, along any river on earth, the chances are great that people indigenous to that landscape knew that place, valued it, named it, depended on it.

In some places the past tense of the verb is appropriate, the indigenous people being so long gone, and their relations to that place obscured under such a thick palimpsest of subsequent cultures that their presence is barely discernible, if at all.

But for most places in the world, indigenous people remain connected, through stories, voices, presence.  Oh sure, it may be possible to be on a river such as the Ohio, the Tennessee, the Columbia, or the Mississippi, and to know something about those rivers, without knowing their indigenous histories and meanings.

It may be possible, but such knowledge, truncated without connection to old, enduring ways, is lacking.  It lacks a certain richness, depth, and connection.

Knowledge of a river that begins when the most recent occupants came is necessarily foreshortened, both with regard to the past, but also with regard to the future.  For those of us Euro-Americans living along the Upper Mississippi River, if we only understand “history” as beginning with the fur trade in the late 17th century, and as only including dominant voices of those who wrote things down, we limit ourselves to only imagining a future of a couple hundred years, and with ourselves as the center of that future.

We must do better, if we are to sustain a relationship with our rivers.

Fortunately, web sites like the Bdote Memory Map can begin to show us some ways into understanding these old ways, and their continuations into the present.

Bdote is a Dakota term that means, roughly, “where two waters meet.”  The bdote at the juncture of what are now called the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, in the heart of the present Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, is the spiritual and historical home to Dakota people.  It is also a place where 1700 women, children, and elders were imprisoned after the Dakota War of 1862, making it a place, as I have heard people say, “of our genesis and our genocide.”

The Memory Map site, a collaboration between the Minnesota Humanities Center and Allies: media/art conveys a richly nuanced sense of this place.  The site contains audio and video clips from Dakota people explaining elements of their connections to this place; it contains photographs and text that show it in its many dimensions; it contains a mechanism for visitors to tell their stories.

This capacity, for people to listen to multiple and diverse stories, to learn through visual, aural, and text-based documents, and to speak back to the site, to engage in a conversation, is essential if our future with this place is to be sustained.  Explore the Bdote Memory Map, listen to the voices, and imagine how those voices and voices like them can be–must be–part of our future understandings of our rivers.

At the River Life Partnership, we work closely with Allies and with people and organizations that Allies connects us with in the indigenous community.  Quite honestly, we can’t imagine doing our work without these partnerships, voices, and insights.

Pidamaya for permission to repost this piece.  http://blog.lib.umn.edu/ione/rivertalk/

Resilience Needed: In the Gulf and On the River

By Patrick Nunnally on June 1, 2010 2:29 PMNo CommentsNo TrackBacks
All of us, I am sure, have seen at least some of the coverage of the disastrous oil well blowout and spill in the Gulf of Mexico over the past six weeks.  The spill is a catastrophe in many dimensions, threatening commercial fishing and shrimping, marsh habitat, and numerous bird and marine species.
People knowledgeable about the Mississippi River know that there’s been a similar assault on Gulf of Mexico water quality taking place annually for quite some time:  the periodic flareup of the hypoxic “dead zone.”  Gulf hypoxia, caused when levels of dissolved oxygen fall below a point where marine life can be supported, is largely attributable to sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus washing into the Gulf from the 31 states in the Mississippi River watershed.
The hydrological intersection of the Mississippi Delta and the Gulf of Mexico is far more complex than can be related here.  The point I want to make is to hope that, as the oil spill disaster comes under control, whenever that may be, and programmatic efforts are pointed toward restoration of the Gulf and its ecosystems, that we not lose sight of the ongoing threat to Gulf water quality from the Mississippi.
There’s a strong foundation from which to build.  Since 1997, five federal agencies and agencies from ten Mississippi River states have met as part of a Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force.  The Task Force web site  provides a valuable starting point for understanding the complex of issues involved.
The 2008 Action Plan is particularly commendable.  It clarifies three goals for the Task Force’s work, which might be summarized thus:
  1. Reduce the hypoxic zone in the Gulf;
  2. Implement nutrient and sediment action plans that protect the waters of the Mississippi River basin;
  3. Improve the quality of life for communities whose identity and livelihoods are directly dependent on the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
A key strength of these goals is their integrated nature:  they speak to human welfare as well as the welfare of biological and physical systems; they connect issues in coastal Louisiana with issues in the heartland; they make the connections, at least implicitly, between healthy communities, healthy water, and healthy economies.
Above all, they suggest that connectivity builds resilience, a quality that is badly needed as the Gulf region copes with yet another disaster.   We saw these connections and resilience after Katrina, and in the planning for coastal restoration that has been taking place over the past decade.
In the months ahead we will do well to remember that Gulf resilience and Mississippi River resilience are intimately connected, and that both involve the restoration of healthy habitat for humans, plants, and animals
Pidamaya to the River Life Program. This piece is from http://blog.lib.umn.edu/ione/rivertalk/