Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Water Week: Minnesota's Water Ethic begins with the Ojibwe

One of my all-time favorite ideas comes from this quote by William Gibson: "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." I am reminded of it when I consider Governor Dayton's belief that Minnesota needs a water ethic and then read such stories as those of Ojibwe women's water walks.

Spring, St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

On Sunday, April 10, about a week before the governor's kickoff of Minnesota's Water Action Week, Sharon Day, an Ojibwe Elder, hosted a Water Ceremony on the banks of the St. Croix River in Minnesota. The ceremony was one of several “Indigenous-led, extended ceremonies to pray for the water. Every step is taken in prayer and gratitude for water, our life-giving force.” Nibi (Water) Walks have also been conducted on the Mississippi, the Minnesota, and the St. Louis Rivers and around all the Great Lakes.

From Beth Dooley's book, In Winter's Kitchen, we learn:
The Anishinaabeg, writes Robin Kimmerer, "understand a world in which all beings were given a gift, a gift that simultaneously engenders a responsibility to the world. Water's gift is its role as a life sustainer and its duties are manifold: making plants grow, creating homes for fish and mayflies."
The Ojibwe are Anishinaabeg. We need to sing their water songs.

As a core element of Minnesota's water ethic, today's Minnesotans could and should recognize, reflect, and adopt the perspective of some of the first "Minnesotans," the Anishinaabeg -- Ojibwe, and their appreciation of the gifts the earth brings us through water.

We would do well to also include Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic because what happens on the land ends up in the water.
“A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of land.”

“We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.”
As further proof that Minnesota's Water Ethic, like Gibson's future, is already here but unevenly distributed, we should include elements from Wendell Berry's Unsettling of America and his poems like this one:


If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it...
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides...
The river will run
clear, as we will never know it...
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields...
Memory,
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its reality.


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