University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

March for Science Should Highlight Indigenous Science

Saturday’s Earth Day March for Science is gaining worldwide attention.  Our program has spent considerable energy learning what we can about hydrological sciences over the years and we have noted the increasing visibility of ways of knowing sometimes referred to as “traditional ecological knowledge” or indigenous science.  Learning more about these perspectives is always on our “to do” list!  Accordingly, we were happy to get notice of a Letter of Support for Indigenous Science as part of next weekend’s March. The Letter is pasted below; we urge you to click on the link above, add your name, and forward it to like-minded colleagues.

To the March for Science, DC and satellite marches across the nation and the world:

As Indigenous scientists, agency professionals, tribal professionals, educators, traditional practitioners, family, youth, elders and allies from Indigenous communities and homelands all over the living Earth we

Endorse and Support the March for Science.

As original peoples, we have long memories, centuries old wisdom and deep knowledge of this land and the importance of empirical, scientific inquiry as fundamental to the well-being of people and planet.

Let us remember that long before Western science came to these shores, there were Indigenous scientists here. Native astronomers, agronomists, geneticists, ecologists, engineers, botanists, zoologists, watershed hydrologists, pharmacologists, physicians and more—all engaged in the creation and application of knowledge which promoted the flourishing of both human societies and the beings with whom we share the planet. We give gratitude for all their contributions to knowledge. Native science supported indigenous culture, governance and decision making for a sustainable future –the same needs which bring us together today.

As we endorse and support the March for Science, let us acknowledge that there are multiple ways of knowing that play an essential role in advancing knowledge for the health of all life. Science, as concept and process, is translatable into over 500 different Indigenous languages in the U.S. and thousands world-wide. Western science is a powerful approach, but it is not the only one.

Indigenous science provides a wealth of knowledge and a powerful alternative paradigm by which we understand the natural world and our relation to it. Embedded in cultural frameworks of respect, reciprocity, responsibility and reverence for the earth, Indigenous science lies within a worldview where knowledge is coupled to responsibility and human activity is aligned with ecological principles and natural law, rather than against them. We need both ways of knowing if we are to advance knowledge and sustainability.

Let us March not just for Science-but for Sciences!

We acknowledge and honor our ancestors and draw attention to the ways in which Indigenous communities have been negatively impacted by the misguided use of Western scientific research and institutional power. Our communities have been used as research subjects, experienced environmental racism, extractive industries that harm our homelands and have witnessed Indigenous science and the rights of Indigenous peoples dismissed by institutions of Western science.

While Indigenous science is an ancient and dynamic body of knowledge, embedded in sophisticated cultural epistemologies, it has long been marginalized by the institutions of contemporary Western science. However, traditional knowledge is increasingly recognized as a source of concepts, models, philosophies and practices which can inform the design of new sustainability solutions. It is both ancient and urgent.

Indigenous science offers both key insights and philosophical frameworks for problem solving that includes human values, which are much needed as we face challenges such as climate change, sustainable resource management, health disparities and the need for healing the ecological damage we have done.

Indigenous science informs place-specific resource management and land-care practices important for environmental health of tribal and federal lands. We require greater recognition and support for tribal consultation and participation in the co-management, protection, and restoration of our ancestral lands.

Indigenous communities have partnered with Western science to address environmental justice, health disparities, and intergenerational trauma in our communities. We have championed innovation and technology in science from agriculture to medicine. New ecological insights have been generated through sharing of Indigenous science. Indigenous communities and Western science continue to promote diversity within STEM fields. Each year Indigenous people graduate with Ph.D.’s, M.D.’s, M.S.’s and related degrees that benefit our collective societies. We also recognize and promote the advancement of culture-bearers, Elders, hunters and gatherers who strengthen our communities through traditional practices.

Our tribal communities need more culturally embedded scientists and at the same time, institutions of Western science need more Indigenous perspectives. The next generation of scientists needs to be well- positioned for growing collaboration with Indigenous science. Thus we call for enhanced support for inclusion of Indigenous science in mainstream education, for the benefit of all. We envision a productive symbiosis between Indigenous and Western knowledges that serve our shared goals of sustainability for land and culture. This symbiosis requires mutual respect for the intellectual sovereignty of both Indigenous and Western sciences.

As members of the Indigenous science community, we endorse and support the March for Science – and we encourage Indigenous people and allies to participate in the national march in DC or a satellite march. Let us engage the power of both Indigenous and Western science on behalf of the living Earth.

Let our Indigenous voices be heard.


#TBT: Hidden Falls Park: Maybe Less Hidden in New Plan

A week or so ago, I was pleased to see an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that stormwater management at the old Ford plant site could boost water flow over Hidden Falls, an intermittent stream that leaves the vacant industrial property through a steep ravine on its way to the Mississippi River. The Ford plant site, nearly 150 acres of industrial property on a bluff above the Mississippi in St. Paul, is perhaps the premier redevelopment site in the Upper Midwest.  Whatever happens here will have a substantial impact for generations; it’s appropriate that stormwater management is getting a lot of attention.  I have had students develop options for the Ford site and for Hidden Falls Park over the years; it’s an interesting intersection of river and city.

On a whim, I went to the Minnesota Historical Society web site to see what it had for historical photos of the park.  I found two that were pertinent.

Nikon D2X capture of original.

This image, dated to 1938, shows the wall and stairway made by WPA crews in the park.  Only ruins of this structure remain; it’s interesting to see what was there before.  Beautiful work.

As is so often the case when doing historical research, you sometimes find more than you were looking for.  The metadata for this image says that it was made in July 1939 and shows police, WPA officials, and striking workers.  A strike?! What was that about?  In all of my years working on Mississippi River history, the history of labor on and along the river is one subject that I have found very little material about.  Whole new possibilities open up.

But then, it’s the Mississippi River, so I should expect that, right?

Water Advocacy Calendar is Crowded!

A week from today, Tuesday April 19, Twin Cities water advocates will have a busy day!

Friends of the Mississippi River is part of a large group of water environment protectors putting forward a Water Action Day to meet with legislators and rally for clean water across the state.  For decades, Minnesota’s water protection policies have been among the leading edge in protection for clean waters.  Now the legislature is threatening many of these policies, arguing, I guess, that we don’t need to keep working to maintain the safe clean water that is so important to industry, communities, and the state’s quality of life.  The Water Action Day is part of Governor Dayton’s Year of Water Action, a broadly inclusive framework aimed at making citizens across the state aware of the importance of clean, abundant water.

As they say on late-night TV pitches “But wait–there’s more!”  The Minneapolis Park Board is holding a public hearing the evening of April 19 on the status of the Calhoun/Bde Maka Ska Master Plan.  This lake, southwest of downtown Minneapolis, has been known as Bde Maka Ska by the Dakota people, who have lived here, their origin place, for millennia.  Beginning in the mid 19th century, white settlers who were colonizing the land now in the state of Minnesota, named the lake Calhoun, after the Secretary of War who had authorized the establishment of Fort Snelling in 1820.  Calhoun, a notorious racist, slave owner, and secessionist, has become an increasingly controversial figure in American history; public momentum to change the name of the lake and park has been building for a number of years.

Taken together, the advocacy opportunities related to Water Action Day and the master planning for Calhoun/Bde Maka Ska sketch out twin avenues for water research, advocacy, and engagement for the long term in Minnesota.  No longer can we just assume that we will have a sufficient supply of clean water.  And no longer can we assume that the names things have always had will be adequate and appropriate.  In both cases, we must broaden the range of voices we hear, the stories we learn, and the insights we recognize to ensure that Minnesota’s waters are planned for the whole public, by the whole public.

#TBT: Megalops in the Blufflands Region c. 1900

Today’s image is from the collections at the University of Minnesota Archives.

The collection in question concerns the Megalops, a research vessel built in 1899 that allowed scientists from the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Normal School, Mankato (now Minnesota State University, Mankato) to study the aquatic life of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.  Metadata for this image, #37 in the collection, indicates it was made around 1900, but no location is listed.  Do any of you have an idea specifically where this might be?

The bluff on the picture’s right places the scene in the blufflands region, reaching from the vicinity of Red Wing down past Dubuque Iowa, almost to the Quad Cities.  The water surface has changed tremendously of course; this shot was made well before the locks and dams built in the 1930s flooded the floodplain forest to ensure a nine foot deep navigation channel for commercial navigation.  The railroad crossing is probably gone also, although it’s possible that sources such as Corps of Engineer charts or photographs documenting the locks and dams may show it.

The village in the foreground might offer a clue, if the right county plat maps or USGS topographic maps could be identified to narrow the spatial focus.  There were several communities such as these along the river at this time, although the railroad was making the river less and less viable as a transportation system. The railroad line appears to hug the shore, while the primitive wagon road snakes through the upland section of the village, dodging what appear to be mudholes before disappearing around the bluff.

If you look at the image on the web page, and click “view full size image” you can zoom in a great deal.  With enough zoom, another community appears on the floodplain past the bluff, in the image’s center-right section.  This is a much more substantial town, with a smoking industrial site of some sort near the water’s edge and what appears to be a very large church set well back from the waterfront.  Unlike the small village in the foreground, this town is likely to still be present in the landscape, perhaps offering a better clue as to precisely where this photo was taken.

Historic photographs: the biggest time-waster on my desk!  Hope you enjoy this one also.

The Rivers Beneath Our Feet

We generally know that rain runs off the ground into the neighboring river, and that this process takes place somewhere below ground.  Maybe we’ve seen the “Don’t Pollute Drains to River” stencils on storm drains in our neighborhood.

But what exactly are the conduits below ground that carry storm water to the Mississippi (in the case of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as dozens of other communities)?

My friend and colleague Matt Tucker, from the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota refers to these waterways as “Anthropocene rivers,” which I take to mean that they are part of the earth’s circulatory system that has been made by humans.  The metaphor–or maybe it’s a literal statement?–that rivers are the circulation system of the living earth is powerful.  So it was interesting to see this article about the Capitol Region Watershed District, highlighting one of the main arteries, if you will, conveying St. Paul’s storm water to the Mississippi.  Be sure to watch the video; good images and articulate voices about the relationships between the community and the river.

For a historian like me, the sight of century-old limestone blocks still carrying storm water is completely fascinating in its own right.  But the tunnel also makes me wonder  “Why did they do that?” and “What else happened?”  (And who were “they” anyway?) Was the development of this large storm water system a means to drain wet lands to build out new neighborhoods? Who pressed to make the project happen, and how was it paid for?  If the project was about draining land for development, what happened to the people who had been using the land before?

So many questions about how recent generations of humans have changed land and water systems to make a city.  And, following Tucker’s terms, if these are “anthropocene” rivers, what does that mean?  Certainly we have a responsibility to and for these water ways, even if they aren’t as charismatic as the above-ground Mississippi River.  Hard to imagine picnicking by the storm drain.    That’s an important part of the watershed district’s work: helping us see the connections between the rivers beneath our feet and the rivers in front of us.

#TBT: Fifty-five Years Ago, Minnesota Had Few Tools to Respond to River Pollution

There has been a lot written recently about impending changes at the Environmental Protection Agency under the new Presidential administration.  A quick look into the entries at the Minnesota Historical Society’s MNopedia shows that pollution of the Mississippi River was a substantial public concern in 1962-63, nearly a decade before the 1970 establishment of the EPA through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The MNopedia article “Mississippi River Oil Spill, 1962-1963,” by Joseph Manulik (who was a U of MN Honors student when he wrote the piece) details how two spills, both on the Minnesota River, wreaked havoc downstream.  Manulik makes the clear point that the State of Minnesota had poor policy tools to deal with environmental crises.  The spilled oil fouled waterbird habitat as far down the Mississippi as Lake Pepin, killing thousands of ducks and wrecking the aquatic ecology of the river for nearly 100 miles.  But the only state remedy could not be put into action until a health hazard to humans was declared.  At this point in history, very few people ventured near the river, so the state was left with makeshift remedies, including a short-lived involvement of the National Guard. There was no recourse in state or federal law to hold the industrial sites responsible for the oil spills responsible for the accidents.

There is, of course, a lot of posturing and exaggeration about policy directions at the EPA.  But it does seem clear that there is little appetite to return to a pre-EPA world, where rivers burned, waterfowl suffocated, and polluters were held unaccountable.


Minnesota’s Clean Water Fund: Working Well, but Restoring Water Takes a Long Time

In 2008, Minnesota voters passed an amendment to the state constitution establishing a 25 year fund to support the state’s clean water, land, heritage, and parks and trails programs.  To date, that fund has allocated some $760 million toward restoration of the state’s surface waters; the state Department of Natural Resources estimates that 40% of the state’s lakes, rivers and streams are “impaired,” that is, unfit for fishing or swimming.

So how is the state doing with the infusion of cleanup funds? The Office of the Legislative Auditor released a report this week suggesting that the funds are being spent appropriately, but that it’s still too early to measure results in terms of cleaner waters.

Two conclusions can be reached:

First, the clean bill of health regarding agency processes and spending efforts is very good news.  There are some relatively minor hiccups regarding precisely what spending is allowable, but the Legislative Auditor’s report recognizes that the program is working well.  For any program with a sizable amount of money, that’s a good sign, and a welcome affirmation of government agencies doing a good job on important work.

Second, as coverage by Minnesota Public Radio says, making a measurable change in water quality takes a long time.  Using Clean Water Legacy funds, the state has sped up collection of water quality data across the state’s 80-some watersheds, but it will take a 10 year cycle of revisiting and remeasuring those watersheds to determine how much actual progress is being made in the field.  As the Auditor’s project manager notes, “It also takes a long time to restore water,”

That’s a point that should not be lost on any of us. It’s easier to keep water clean in the first place than it is to clean it after pollution has occurred.


#TBT: River History Found in all Sorts of Places

It probably shouldn’t be surprising, but it is, how many places the Mississippi River’s history shows up.  The fantastic, and fun, Open Parks Network site contains over 200,000 images of items relating to the nation’s over 400 national park units.  OF COURSE they would have great Mississippi River materials on the site!

Actually, not so much, at least coming from a simple “Mississippi River” keyword search.  Of course, there are many other ways to search for river-related items, but I just thought I would share one thing I did find.  Here’s an image that is part of the collections of the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

The power dam and lock at Keokuk Iowa was a nationally-significant power development when it went online right before World War 1.  It’s hardly surprising that Sandburg would have had this image in his files. What stories about the river and its people does this image elicit? What questions can we ask of it that inform how we think about the river now, a century later?

In Atlanta, Integrated Water Management + Community Engagement=Resilience

Atlanta GA is, to say the least, a complex place.  It has been the herald of various “New South” efforts (some of which weren’t really so new) since the 1880s, and even today contains all of the depth and self-contradictions that can be found across the entire country.

So it wasn’t really surprising to find that Atlanta is the location for a recent case study report on the American Rivers blog, where it had been picked up from an earlier River Network posting.  These two national organizations, which until fairly recently had reflected stereotypes of environmental orgs as interested in “wild” places where elites could afford to travel for recreation, have become increasingly attuned to urban issues of environmental equity and water management.

This case, like many in Atlanta and other urban locales, begins with a large scale infrastructure decision affecting a neighborhood comprising largely poor people and communities of color.  The vicinity of Turner Field, formerly the home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, has been carved up by highways, leveled for sports complexes and parking lots, and otherwise converted to a sea of impervious surfaces over the past 50+ years.  Now the Braves are leaving; what shall the site become?

In this instance, American Rivers collaborated with ECO-Action, a community environmental justice group, to devise specific approaches to stormwater management that would support the mixed-use development that was the neighborhood’s #1 redevelopment priority.  Working together, planners proposed measures that would capture the first 1.8″ of rainfall, an amount that covers over 90% of the rainstorms the city sees.  Capturing that water on site, rather than having it rush off into an already flood-prone neighborhood, provides benefits for the neighborhood as well as the nearby Chattahoochee River.

How did they do it? The author, Jeremy Diner, offers suggestions that are familiar to community organizers although not, perhaps, part of river advocacy “tool kits” yet:

This experience suggests that we start by breaking out of our own silos. We free up more evenings to attend community meetings. We trade our keyboard for a telephone or a handshake. We listen more and talk less.

Can’t really say it any better.

Innovative Knowledge Sharing and New Relations to Place

It sometimes surprises our community partners when they learn how “non-placed” much of University scholarship is.  Many of our faculty have their most important professional relationships enacted through a network of scholars working on similar projects; the community represented by their department or college is important, but not really where their primary allegiances are.  In a similar manner, many scholars, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, study broad theoretical frameworks that are not explicitly “placed,” even though the impacts or applications of the ideas are all around us.  For many reasons, places like the U of M tend to reward scholars for the original ideas rather than the application of ideas.

I’m not writing this to complain or start an argument–I know there are many generalizations in the previous paragraph.  But I want to highlight two projects that I ran across recently, both of which provide potentially valuable complementary perspectives to traditional scholarly work. In Vancouver, the  Wikiupedia project offers an augmented reality access to indigenous stories of that place. The app has potential to “unsettle” or “decolonize’ stories of a place that are more commonly seen through the lenses of settler stories and occupation.  Project developers hope that it can preserve indigenous cultures, capturing stories and language, vetted by indigenous cultural-knowledge keepers before the relations to land and place that are expressed through that language are lost.

The other innovative project that offers new connections between knowledge and place originates closer to home. The Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities and other partners are collaborating on a series of art installations and research projects known as “Date/um: Ecological Temporalities of the Lower Schuylkill River.” The project’s lead curator, Patricia E. Kim, explains in an online essay that the sharp juxtaposition of diverse kinds of information serves both to illuminate how science and art can speak together, and also to advocate for continued collection of rich scientific data.  Toward that end, the PPEH project has been a leader in the national DataRefuge project, which seeks to “build refuge for federal climate and environmental data.”

Art, science, and place: key components for the next generation of water programs. The work that needs doing requires an aesthetic and ethic of “both/and”: engagement and science, both grounded in place; scholarship and community perspectives, mutually reinforcing each other.

Bethany Wiggin, the Founding Director at the Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities, will present a talk on the PPEH work on the Schuylkill River this Thursday, March 9, at Northrop Auditorium on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus.  Further information is on the Institute for Advanced Study web site.


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Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.