Thanks AGAIN to Pat Nunnally of the River Life Program at the University of Minnesota for permission.


It seems self-evident (but may not be) that we should listen to people who have lived with our rivers the longest in order to learn how we might develop a sustainable relationship with rivers.

Put it another way:  In less than a decade, New Orleans, founded in 1718, will celebrate its tricentennial.  If there is to be thriving urban life on the Mississippi for the next 3 centuries, we must learn from people native to the river.

Recently a spate of news stories have highlighted relations between native people and rivers in the United States.

Sometimes, the relationship is difficult.  As The Native American Times writes, shoreline stabilization on the Tennessee River, at Moccasin Bend, has uncovered previously-unknown archaeological sites.  Moccasin Bend was a very significant settlement, and the discovery of human burials complicates the river stabilization project considerably.  The project is under the direction of the National Park Service’s Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, so federal laws pertaining to human burials at archaeological sites are being followed.

Farther down river, in Louisiana, a site known as Poverty Point, which contains some of the largest “prehistoric” earthworks in North America, has been proposed for possible consideration as a World Heritage Site.  World Heritage Sites, designated by UNESCO, contain qualities of “outstanding universal value.”  There are less than 1,000 World Heritage Sites on the globe; inclusion of Poverty Point would likely spur research and protection interest.

It would be a serious error, though, to conclude the Native presence along rivers is historical only.  Two current projects, both in the Pacific Northwest, illustrate collaborations between Native nations and public agencies in preservation of rivers and the varied life forms that depend on rivers.  The New York Times has two stories on coalition building along the Nisqually River.  Also in Washington, a coalition of tribal governments and federal agencies is examining the aquatic ecology of the Elwha River, prior to the removal of a large dam this fall.

Finally, take a look at the Facebook page of a program called Conversations With the Earth.  This effort to ensure that indigenous voices are heard on planetary issues, such as climate change, is a “must learn.”  River managers on the Upper Mississippi are well advised to listen to native people–they are still here–and collaborate in establishing more sustainability on the Great River.