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Changing River + Changing Communities: Need for New Narratives

March 25, 2015Patrick NunnallyEvents, Featured, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on Changing River + Changing Communities: Need for New Narratives

Towboat at SunsetWhen we put a public program together, we have a clear, but complex, goal:  we want the audience to walk away saying “That’s a really interesting idea.  I’ll have to think about that some more.”  Maybe it’s the teacher in us, or the fact that unlike our community partners our mandate is not to manage river resources or programs.  Instead our mandate is to encourage new ideas that help our partners do their jobs.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because we are two weeks away from the symposium “The Once and Future River,” where some two dozen speakers will incite new thinking on a range of topics related to the Mississippi River.  We’ll ask questions such as:  What do we mean when we talk about the “Mississippi River”? How do we express new ideas?  What do we mean by “resilience” as that term might be applied to the river and its communities?

Hard questions, requiring more thought than we are perhaps used to.  But then, as I said, that’s our job.  For example, we held a program last spring “The Irony of Carp” that really exemplifies what we’re about.

Invasive carp are a threat to current conditions on the Upper Mississippi, of that there is no doubt.  We are glad that many organizations and coalitions are working to stop the spread of these pests.  But what, ultimately, do we mean by “invasive,” and exactly how did these fish get here in the first place?  If we are stopping them to protect a “natural” ecological system, well, how “natural” is that system really?

Last spring’s program ranged across a number of fundamental questions about invasive carp and our responses to them.  Among the insights:

  • We are spending millions of dollars to keep these species out of the Great Lakes because we are afraid they will harm species of “game fish,” which themselves are introduced species.
  • In social media such as You Tube, the language that is used to describe the “stop carp” efforts sounds an awful lot like the xenophobic language people use who are worried about “illegal immigrants.”
  • In another century, which is the blink of an eye from the perspective of the indigenous people here (and who have their own ideas about the ironies of whites getting alarmed about “invasive species,”) the currently invasive carp may well be seen as “native” to the ecosystem.

Watch the videos at the link above; they are sure to inform and to provoke thought.  And be sure to register for the symposium in two weeks: it also is sure to both inform and to provoke thought.

After all, are any of us comfortable saying that we know enough?

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