Thursday, December 22, 2016

Happy Holidays from the Minnesota Humanities Center


Happy Holidays from the Minnesota Humanities Center! The Minnesota Humanities Center Blog will be taking a holiday break for the next two weeks. Please check back for new blog posts starting January 5, 2017.

The offices of the Humanities Center will be closed on:
  • Friday, December 23, 2016
  • Monday, December 26, 2016
  • Monday, January 2, 2017
See you again in 2017!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Edairra McCalister - Unity Circle: Seeing Our Girls and Womyn

Edairra McCalister is a proud mother and an educator. She is a recent graduate of Metropolitan State University with a Master’s of Science in Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Schooling from the School of Urban Education. Edairra participated in the Minnesota Humanities Center’s 2016 Summer Educators’ Institute.

I have always wanted to become an educator. As a child I dreamt of the day that I would have my very own classroom, so I practiced by playing school with my siblings regularly. The day that my dream came true was the journey of joy, pain, and learning curves that began with no signs of slowing down.

I’ve worked in North Minneapolis as an educator for the past two years and traveled the journey as if I were made for it, because I believe I was. However, somewhere along that journey joy departed, and as a result, I recently resigned from my teaching position a quarter into my third year. With no new job on the horizon, and no plan in place, my resignation was an act of shear faith and me taking a stand for what I believe in.

While participating in the Humanities Center’s week-long summer Educator’s Institute in June of 2016, I made a breakthrough in understanding my purpose and direction as a black womyn and educator. Rich discussions about absent narratives, understanding place, and exploration of epistemologies, equipped me with much to bring back to the classroom to engage in critical learning. It was learning about the transformative practice of holding a ‘Story Circle’ – as introduced and facilitated by Ms. Rose McGee during the Institute – that planted a seed.

As part of the Educators’ Institute, participants were required to create an action plan based on enduring understandings from lessons that took place throughout the week. My own personal and professional experiences of invisibility as a black womyn, and my desire to share those stories, particularly one that took place about mid-way through the week during the Institute, inspired an action plan titled: Unity Circle.

Unity Circle was created using storytelling as its key component because it provided an opportunity and platform for girls/womyn of color to share experiences and facilitate critical dialogues. I envisioned the space to be cultivated within a Unity Circle as a potential way to deconstruct invisibility and create a sense of value amongst girls/womyn, and was eager to begin creating this space with my scholars. I saw this work as necessary and, at this point, there was no dedicated space for girls/womyn of color in the school environment. The need to address the absent narratives of girls/womyn of color in the school setting presented Unity Circle as an option to become the focus of my master’s thesis research.

In response to issues faced by black girls in the school setting, I did facilitate Unity Circle this past November with scholars attending school on the North side of Minneapolis.  Unity Circle proved more than I had imagined but, most importantly, everything I hoped for black girls – that being a safe space to speak and hear others. Engaging in this work is not easy, but it is important. I know all too well how it feels to be silenced and unseen, which is why I concluded that remaining an educator who felt invisible in their school environment would be antithetical to the work of deconstructing invisibility and revealing absent narratives. The Humanities Center’s Educators’ Institute changed my life quite literally, and I was empowered when I decided to stand for what I know to be right, despite perceived consequences.

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”—Zora Neale Hurston

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Annamarie Gutsch - Much More Than Just an Exhibit: Why Treaties Matter Works

Annamarie Gutsch is best known for her work with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, having served as Executive Director from 2006-2015. She celebrates a long career in public service to the American Indian Tribes and communities and the people of Minnesota as a Government Relations Director for the Red Lake Nation. She has also worked for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, for Veterans Affairs, and at the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. Annamarie serves on the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Board of Directors and was instrumental in creating the traveling exhibit Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nation.

UPDATE: “Why Treaties Matter” is now on permanent display at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. For more information, visit: www.treatiesmatter.org.

Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nation is a nationally recognized, award-winning, traveling exhibit made in partnership with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. This exhibit explores relationships between Dakota and Ojibwe Indian Nations and the U.S. government in this place we now call Minnesota, focusing on, how treaties affected the lands and lifeways of the indigenous peoples of this place, and why these binding agreements between nations still matter today.

Within our time to create, there always seemed to be an even more profound time to silently reflect and think – time to stretch our minds beyond why we were creating a project with ongoing deep reflection to envision exactly what we were trying to portray to our audience. What was our goal? We wanted to change Minnesota’s dismal understanding of our American Indian communities and create a hunger to learn more while perhaps creating new relationships in a way never accomplished before. With this goal in mind, the greatest collaboration I’ve ever participated in — the Why Treaties Matter exhibit — was born.

From start to the finish, the Why Treaties Matter collaboration and exhibit run, several members of the development team--consisting of me and a core group of outstanding Humanities Center program directors and administrators--spent endless hours of vision-building time together. Time spent sitting around a table, coffee or some beverage and snacks nearby, papers strewn about, where we pondered the simplest or the most complex ideas or thoughts, or, just ripped apart raw details in an agenda for an upcoming program. This was far more than just your everyday nine-to-five working group. It was a group on a mission; a mission that we often proclaimed was “to change the world.” This team of inspiring leaders seemed the perfect group of individuals whose eyes, when mixed together, could see far beyond what most people are capable of envisioning. And as we gathered, it became clear to me that this magnetic force drawing our visions together was truly one that would lead to great success.


The Why Treaties Matter exhibit success wasn’t due to any one person’s academic or intellectual abilities or because we were equipped with greater administrative capacity or even money to turn out such a successful exhibit and programming. It was truly a recipe with healthy doses of eager world changers coming together to contribute their collective knowledge and stories. Most importantly, we were not necessarily the masters of the knowledge but more like the gatherers of it. The true master creators and voices of this project were the cultural leaders, elders, and community members who led this initiative. They came together with us, to sit around the table and helped create a tangible, truth-filled exhibit that has successfully moved towards changing how treaties and the history around them are viewed by both native and non-native people.

The Why Treaties Matter exhibit has touched over 67,200 lives since 2011. For an exhibit that existed well beyond its imagined time to tour various venues across Minnesota for six total years, that’s some spectacular record. What is even more profound is that out of the countless pairs of eyes and minds that gathered information from this rich visual and personal learning experience, most had likely never seen or heard any of this before. Although we knew this was the case, the responses were still overwhelming to us. Email after email proclaimed, “Why haven’t I heard this history before?” Think about that. The real history and story of the lives of our American Indian/indigenous people to this land and most people have never heard anything of it before. This is why we so steadfastly held to our claim that we would “change the world. As we embark on the seventh year of this remarkable journey, I like to think in a small but profound way that we did.

To learn more about this exhibit, view this exhibit on line and, access accompanying educator guides visit treatiesmatter.org.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Rose McGee - Sweet Potato Comfort Pie - It's More Than Just a Dessert!

Rose McGee is a pie philanthropist, storyteller, educator, author, and a Program Officer at the Minnesota Humanities Center. She is founder of the convening concept: “Sweet Potato Comfort Pie Approach: a catalyst for caring and building community,” author of the book Story Circle Stories and the play Kumbayah the Juneteenth Story. She is featured on the national PBS documentary A Few Good Pie Places and her TEDx Talk: The Power of Pie.

Racism! There. I put it out there and said the “r” word. Does it exist? Without hesitation some vehemently say, “Oh hell yeah!” as others deniably respond, “Of course not!” Despite the controversy, pain is real, dialogue is critical, and healing is essential. What does sweet potato pie have to do with this? Well, keep your eyes on the pie, for there is power in the approach and it sort of goes like this…

I grew up in the rural South with my grandmother and great-grandmother, referring to them affectionately as ‘My Mamas.’ I grew up witnessing My Mamas bake sweet potato pies and then give them to neighbors who were in need of comfort or encouragement, and in celebration. In my adulthood, I came to recognize and pay homage to the sweet potato pie as being the sacred dessert of black culture and grew to understand that My Mamas had made them with tremendous empathy and unconditional love. Each recipient gained a nurturing feeling of joy that helped ease their sorrows or added to their celebrations. Wasn’t that a simple and basic act of humanity?

August 9, 2014, triggered a violent, hot summer in Ferguson, Missouri. From my living room in Minnesota, I grew frustrated watching the repetitive coverage on television: ‘African American, 18-year old Michael Brown, dead from bullet wounds fired by a white police officer!’ Faces on my screen were filled with anger, confusion, and hopelessness. Saddened, I felt compelled to do something other than just sit there. By early September, instinctively, I went into my kitchen, baked about 30 sweet potato pies, and packed them into the trunk of my car. Not knowing what to expect, I drove to Ferguson. What I had not counted on was how much people just wanted to be heard.

During my drive home from Ferguson, I pondered how my own community of Golden Valley, Minnesota could proactively begin strengthening relationships among its residents. In less than three months, we implemented an action – the 2015 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service that featured “Sweet Potato Comfort Pie Approach: A catalyst for caring and building community.” On the Saturday before that Monday holiday, over 25 community volunteers baked 86 pies (the age Dr. King would have been on January 15, 2015). Calvary Lutheran Church in Golden Valley generously donated their certified kitchen and also their community room for Sunday afternoon when about 100 people convened in circle and listened as each shared their own authentic stories. The round format was more than just sitting and chit-chatting, but required each participant to be totally present, be receptive to listening without interrupting, and be non-judgmental as stories were shared. To conclude the event, participants decided among themselves who in the community ought to receive the pies. On the Monday holiday and days to follow, the participants delivered those pies to individuals who were ill or in mourning, in appreciation, or in celebration. Recipients included teachers, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, organizations, as well as Shep Harris, Mayor of Golden Valley, and Congressman Keith Ellison who was also in attendance. January 2017 will mark our third annual event.

Since Ferguson, over 150 volunteers have baked over 800 Sweet Potato Comfort Pies™ that have been presented as gifts in response to crisis or celebration. In August 2015, pies were taken to Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina after the murder of nine African Americans by a white supremacist. In November 2015, pies were delivered to the Fourth Precinct in North Minneapolis and given or served to protestors, as well as to police officers, community leaders, and family members of Jamar Clark. Then, too soon afterwards, pies were made for the family of Philando Castile who was killed in Falcon Heights in July 2016, also at the hands of a police officer. At the end of the 2016 school year, 30 pies (intentionally named after 30 diverse women educators alive and deceased) were baked at Shir Tikvah Synagogue in south Minneapolis by 15 diverse women who then delivered and presented the pies to Twin Cities’ students, schools, parents, and educators in special recognition for their successes in educational endeavors. In October of this year, pies were made with an Indigenous Circle of Grandmothers in Omaha, Nebraska and then delivered to the ‘Water Protectors’ at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.

Across this nation, there is an urgency to respond to the hurt, the divisiveness, and the absence of trust. The Minnesota Humanities Center recently received a grant from the National Endowment for Humanities to creatively host such critical conversations called CommonPlace. These dialogues will focus on race in a way aimed to help participants share actions that will lead to healthy solutions. Sweet Potato Comfort Pie™ is proud to partner with the Humanities Center in launching CommonPlace. Join us on December 12, 2016, as we engage in authentic story circles, respectfully listen to each other, and yes, eat delicious sweet potato pie prepared in solidarity by 20 participants comprised of community leaders, youth, Veterans, and police officers.

Learn more and register.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

On this Thanksgiving day, the Minnesota Humanities Center wishes all of its blog readers a very happy Thanksgiving holiday. 

We hope your day is filled with meaningful time to reflect, give thanks, and connect with family, friends, and community.


“Rest and be thankful.” 
William Wordsworth

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sharon Day - What Will You Do For the Water?


Sharon Day, Bois Forte Ojibwe, is the executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, and the leader of 12 Nibi walks including the Mississippi River, the Ohio, the Minnesota, the James, the Kettle, and the Chippewa. She will lead a Potomac River walk this fall. 

“Gidaw izhichigaye na nibi?” This question in the Ojibwe language is, “What will you do for the water?”

This question was asked of me back in 1998. I responded by trying to help save Camp Coldwater Spring. Since then, I have led 12 or 13 Nibi, or water walks, to pray for the health of the rivers.  First, we determine which of the many rivers or lakes on Turtle Island need our prayers the most – which rivers or waterways are severely impaired by pollution or are facing immediate threats by new mines or pipelines running under them. Then we go to that river; we make an offering and state our intentions to walk along this waterway to speak to the water spirits. This is our responsibility as Ojibwekwe, indigenous women, to care for the water. 

Since the beginning of time, Ojibwe women have gathered the water every morning for the needs of the people. We are, like the water, life givers. As we bring our children into the world, they live in our womb in water for nine months. This is a most sacred place. We all need water for nourishment. We need water to bathe, to nourish our plants, and to cook or preserve our food. No human living on this earth can live without water. No one.

When I was a young girl, I would get up in the morning and get the water pail and head to the well to gather the water for the day. It was the last thing I did every night before I went to bed. When one gathers the water and carries it, one develops a relationship with the water. You are careful with it and you use it more than once. Today, we just turn on the faucet, use it, and pour what we don’t need down the drain. On the Nibi walks, women gather the water at the headwaters or source of the river and carry the water to the mouth of the river. There we give the water back to the river. While we carry it, we sing, we pray, we speak to the water spirits. We give thanks for the Nibi, we express our love and respect. These are the teachings of the Ojibwe people.

All the Nibi water walks follow these protocols and more. It is our intention to make sure there is water to nourish our great-great-great grandchildren seven generations into the future. We do this because someone did this for us. My ancestors knew that one day I would be here. They sang the songs and offered the prayers so that I would be able to enjoy life, mino bemadiziwin. To them I am grateful and it is due to the love they had for me that I am able to answer the question, “Gi daw izitchigay na nibi?” What will you do for the water?

“Ngah bimosayaan nibi ohnjay.” I will walk for the water.

Visit the Water/Ways traveling exhibit in Sandstone at the Audubon Center of the North Woods from November 19, 2016 – January 1, 2017. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trista Matascastillo - The Stories Behind Veterans Day

Trista Matascastillo is a Veteran of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Army. She is currently the Strategic Partnerships Officer for the Minnesota Humanities Center and a 2016 Bush Fellow.

Each year on Veterans Day, we pause and reflect on events that have shaped our history. We often look back over a distinct list of historical events that trigger memories about times, places, and people. As a country, we engage in conversations about wars and talk about honoring our heroes in a way that makes them seem like super-humans, capable of unimaginable feats. We wave flags, tie yellow ribbons, and sing patriotic songs. It makes us feel good about doing our part in society to support those we depend on to defend our way of life.

Often left out of the conversation are personal stories of our Veterans and their families that aren’t included in the history books or taught in classrooms. As a Veteran myself, I can tell you that our stories aren’t highlights captured on a timeline, but are instead a blend of experiences, both good and bad, that form our memories and shape who we are as humans and how we engage with and in the world.

Veterans come from a wide variety of backgrounds, belief systems, and identities. Although we experience our military service as part of a large, collective unit, our memories form very personal narratives.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s 2016 Veterans Day message lays out a chronological history of conflicts and honors those still serving, and he says that “…on this day, and every day, we should celebrate each generation by telling their stories.” I would go one step further and suggest that you take time to listen to a Veteran sharing his or her personal stories. Alternatively, you could engage in a conversation with one or more Veterans about their experiences and who they are as people. You could attend a Veterans theater production and listen to or watch a Veteran perform. You could read a memoir, story, or poem written by a Veteran. In doing some or all of these things you will be better able to connect with, understand, and celebrate Veterans through our shared humanity.

You can check out an upcoming Humanities Center Veterans’ Voices event and resources on our website at mnhum.org/vets.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Mary Manor - Fighting the Power: The Positive Story of Public Education

Mary Manor is a proud union member and public school teacher who teaches social justice through the lens of literature and writing at Minneapolis South High School. Mary lives in South Minneapolis with spouse, Corinth, and their dog, Lenny.

Last May, the racial equity student group at South High held “Racial Equity Day.” Student-organized and student-led, the day featured dozens of workshops focused on engaging students in discussions of race and justice in our communities. As a unionized public school teacher at South High, this is a powerful, positive story I can tell about public education.

In contrast, the public education story told by our most powerful government agents, richest capitalists, under-served communities, and disenfranchised students is one of failing schools, ineffective teachers, disengaged students, and long summer breaks. This narrative gives credence to punitive policies, loss of teacher autonomy, destructive teacher evaluations, funding cuts, and school closings.

My union colleagues and I grapple with the harmful effects of this narrative even as we help create positive ones. The power of the negative story comes from money and oppression. The power of our story comes from the work we do, the action we take, and the successes of our students.

I am fortunate to work at Minneapolis South High with colleagues that prioritize the struggle to put social justice issues at the forefront of education. We teach English classes that focus on readings from historically marginalized authors and give all students the opportunity to engage on a deep and authentic level. We have math classes focused on social justice – using poverty rates, demographics, and educational achievement data to teach algebra and statistics – so students can practice practical applications of math and examine social issues that affect communities in which they live. We teach American history classes that privilege the absent narratives of people of color and create engaged, active young citizens who are ready and willing to fight for civil rights.

The power of our story is also dependent on the humanities. My own study of the humanities has helped me develop the knowledge, understanding, compassion, and need for action that shapes my life and teaching. The Minnesota Humanities Center’s workshops have focused my attention on the power of story and the need to engage in the work it will take to change the American narrative for the better.

This summer, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, in memory of Philando Castile, and while holding tightly to the hands of the unionized public school teachers on either side of me, I sat down in the Nicollet Avenue and 8th Street intersection in downtown Minneapolis along with eighteen others. Some of my students peppered the crowd. We chanted and sang until the police gave the final warning to clear the intersection. We remained seated as people from the crowd – friends, fellow teachers, students, union comrades, and community members – gave us hugs and handshakes. Moments later, we were arrested to resounding applause and cheers. I took action because I believe black lives matter. I took action because I believe my black students matter. I took action because I could not go back to my classroom this fall and teach students that they can and should create a powerful, positive American story without living those lessons myself.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Paul Riedner - Rethinking the Modern American Veteran

Paul Riedner is an Army Veteran from Minneapolis who served as a deep sea diver. Currently, Paul is the Executive Director of the Veteran Resilience Project. He is involved in the Veterans’ Voices Storytelling Project and is a 2016 Veterans’ Voices Awardee.

It was 2006 when I started distilling my life. It wasn’t filling me up. It was draining me. By day I traded on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. By night I searched for meaning. Everyone else seemed to know theirs. What was mine? Why did I feel so empty?

I began an internal audit of my life. I reflected about, “What brings me joy?” “What experiences fill me up?” “What physical settings or landscapes I’ve traveled to fire me up?”

I discovered a need to do something that required physical work with my hands, not my head. I discovered a need to work with water. Growing up on the Mississippi River in Red Wing, Minnesota, learning how to live on the water from a father who served on submarines in the Navy, left me yearning for the water.

In addition, I needed to do something meaningful. Thousands of young people were sacrificing and fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; it felt like something important was happening without me.

Then one day an Army recruiter showed me a video of Army Deep Sea Divers. To the chagrin of friends and family, I joined the Army.

Not long after beginning my service in the dive field, my unit, the 86th Engineer Dive Team, deployed to the Middle East. Most people wondered, “Why would divers go to Iraq?” not realizing the amount of water there. Two great rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris, are key features of Iraqi geography – it’s not barren desert.

Divers are brought in when U.S. assets find their way into the water, including weapons, vehicles, or troops. At this time, Army divers were working on rebuilding the bridges that were destroyed in the invasion and ensuing fighting. The riverbed was littered with debris and the substructures needed to be prepared. Our job was difficult, expensive, and risky work anywhere, but especially in a war zone.

After leaving the Army, all of these events and experiences began re-orienting themselves in my mind. New associations were developing. Old rationales were becoming obsolete. I found prior assumptions and frameworks sometimes dissolved entirely under the pressure of a new understanding from my military days. It stunned me to realize that while we worked on bridges in Iraq, the 35W bridge in my home state collapsed. There are trade-offs. And choices have consequences.

Life seems to observe similar laws that water does. Like a wave that rises from trough to crest, we too have cycles of activity versus reflection, spending versus saving, talking versus listening, working versus resting. A re-balancing will happen one way or another.

If we took an audit of our collective well-being as a community in Minnesota, what would we find? Do most Minnesotans have what they need to thrive? Are we being good stewards of our future? When will we, as Minnesotans, take the time to reflect honestly on the events since 9/11, as a state, a country, and as a community?

Not only acknowledging the underhandedness of the political machinations leading up to the invasion, sparking the first ever worldwide protests, but to see and understand the human damage--its scale, its depth. Other repercussions are still ripping through our local and global community. We must not be naïve about the life-long effects of this type of violence on the souls of both warriors and civilians. These wars were conducted by very few, on behalf of the many, and continued for many years by the collective decisions of the people.

When will the local needs of Minnesotans get priority? When will we apply our finest resources, blood, and treasure to returning veterans, our kids, and a future that reflects our values?

As the only state in the U.S. with an entire month dedicated to Veteran Voices, we have the unique chance to take direct lessons from the profound experiences of those we send to war. We need the gifts of those who serve to rebuild our communities. Let us not leave money on the table.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Melissa Townsend - Water: The First Medicine

Melissa Townsend is an independent reporter and audio producer. She now reports and produces Minnesota Native News, a weekly news broadcast that airs on tribal and community radio stations around the state, funded by Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund. Melissa interviewed people in and around St. Peter, Minnesota for the Water/Ways exhibit at the Nicollet County Historical Society/ Treaty Site History Center. As part of the project, she interviewed Glenn Wasicuna [wah-SEE-chew-nah]. Glenn is a Dakota elder with roots in Minnesota.

The first time I met Glenn he told me a story from when he was a teacher in a Dakota tribal school. At the end of the academic year, faculty conducted exit interviews with graduating students. One boy, who was very successful in school, chose to do his exit interview first in the Dakota language, and then in English. He talked very eloquently about his experience in school and his future plans. When it was over, the teachers talked amongst themselves - what an impressive young man with exceptional academic and Dakota knowledge.

Glenn said, he listened and then, he spoke up - Why are we so impressed? He is a Dakota boy. This is what a Dakota boy looks like. This is what we should expect from all our Dakota young people.

When our conversations turned to the subject of water, Glenn said it’s much the same. He said there was a time you could take a dipper to the river and get a drink. He brought his hand toward his mouth as if holding the handle of a dipper. Maybe it was made of metal or wood. It reminded me of constellations of stars in the sky.

Glenn said water that we can drink with a dipper or a cup should be our expectation for all rivers, lakes, and streams. And then he asked me — Why can’t I take a cup to the river and get a drink of water?

With this in mind, I went out and stood on the banks of the Minnesota River where it meanders through Mankato. It was January, and I watched the long, wide slabs of ice float downstream between the river banks. I was amazed at its volume — there is so much water there.

If this were a river of dollar bills, or cars with keys in the ignition — we might have an overwhelming sense of gratitude. How fortunate we are to come across such a treasure. Oh thank God, we might say.

But much of the time we don’t react that way. Farmers in this area drain their fields to get rid of it. City dwellers build walls to keep it out. I was trained as an urban planner. In my coursework, water was generally an adjective, i.e., water source, water treatment, water feature. We were taught how to manage water, direct it, use it and yes, take care of it if its use required it.

But Glenn proposes something else. He says we already know that all waterways are parts of one enormous, life-giving body — the first medicine. We already know that our own well-being is linked to the health of this body of water. And as such, we already know our primary responsibility is to keep the entire body clean enough to drink.

He says, “We already know what to do.”

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Blake Rondeau - Community of Conversation: Civilian and Military Engagement

Blake Rondeau is a Marine Corps Veteran who works at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. He is the Marketing Director for the Minnesota Warriors, a disabled Veteran hockey team. As a member of the Veterans Mental Health Advisory Council for the VA Medical Hospital, he is dedicated to finding and fixing the problems between Veterans and health care. Blake is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Health Care Communication and is a discussion leader for the Humanities Center’s Echoes of War public discussion events at Carleton College in October.

Recently I was sitting in a small group circle meeting with a couple of young Veterans, and we were sharing stories of trials we were dealing with in the civilian world. One of the quieter Vets said, “They [civilians] just don’t understand what I’m going through.” This is a sentiment that I hear a lot from Veterans, and have felt it myself.

So I asked, “Have you told them how you are feeling?”

A question I would never have asked before. A question that may have been a little rude—too daunting to do it myself, so why ask it of him? When he replied that he hadn’t, I asked another question that surprised him and me, “Have you ever asked how they are feeling?”

A few weeks ago I participated in the Humanities Center’s Echoes of War discussion leader training where we focused on a number of things; one that struck me was the idea that knowledge and learning can come from anywhere, if we let it. The discussion leaders and Humanities Center staff encouraged civilian participation and ensured that everyone’s voice needed to be heard.

On the first day I found myself scared, trapped in a room with strangers that would be dissecting me. Perhaps many Veterans have felt this way. But in the span of a week I learned from Veterans and civilians alike by listening and asking what their thoughts were. By creating a dialogue between all of us we were able to relate to one another’s experiences and find similarities: A driving force to help build up a community instead of separating it.

I shared my stories and shed some tears throughout the week. Often times these actions can be seen as a sign of weakness, but leaving the Humanities Center at the end of the week I left supported by new friends, new views, and a new community.

Armed with those experiences and living proof that the Humanities Center’s way of teaching worked, I sat in that small group and asked those questions. I wanted to push back, put the onus back on the Veteran, back on all of us, wanted to see where the conversation would go.

We cannot fear to speak to one another or to learn from one another.

I implore all those who feel the way the ‘quiet’ Veteran did or, if you are someone who doesn’t know how to start a conversation, just ask. If they say no, respect that. If they say yes, take the time to engage. We are all human and have good and bad days but if we, as humans, take the time to listen rather than be discouraged, we can find ourselves living in a truly engaged society.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Paul Sommers - Connecting With Each Other: Sharing Stories and Common Life Threads

For more than 20 years Paul Sommers has worked as an educator in middle and high schools in Chicago, Illinois, Brooklyn, New York, and Oxford, England. He has also worked in non-traditional educational settings in Brazil for a number of years. Paul currently teaches sixth grade Minnesota History at Ramsey Middle School in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The story of a place reminds me of the many places of story we walk through every day, and how much the places we walk through connect to the stories we remember.

In all of the places I have walked in my life, luck seems to follow me. Certainly bad things have happened to me and my family, but from an early age, I learned that the stories we share contextualize the places we visit and the people we connect to in ways that can bridge divides and heal wounds.

It’s not a stretch to say that my training as a humanities teacher began at home, around the dinner table. My mom — a mother of thirteen children — challenged my siblings and me to listen to each other’s stories. Even with a full, noisy table, she heroically championed for us the need to slow down and listen to each other. She established for us a ritual — blessing of the food, passing of the dishes, some side talking, a quiet lull, and my mom saying, “Can we just talk about…” She called it a table ministry. She reminded us that peace depended on different groups of people sitting around the table and sharing their stories. For me, the dinner table became a place of stories.

As I grew older, the stories multiplied, as did the places. Some story places chose us, like the spot in the road where my sister Pat broke her leg in a bike accident, or the exit ramp where my brother Joe tragically died. Driving by these places still triggers memories; the stories get told and retold.

And sometimes, we choose our places of story. I will never forget the three trees planted in the golf course behind my parent’s house. I can still hear the snow crunch as my family and I plodded through the snow to carol to the trees, and I can still recall singing to trees with my dad, my brother, and my sister Ann.

For me, teaching humanities evokes the discovery of common threads found in multiple stories — past, present, future, across generations, and, across cultures and nations. As much as I try to highlight and build on these common threads in our stories, I find that my students make connections that we, as adults, fail to notice. The classroom becomes a place of story when a student, Nimo, compares her struggles with assimilation to the Dakota being forced into boarding schools so many years ago.

Sometimes connections fail and invite humiliation and microaggressions. Sometimes those very stories of hurt facilitate their own connections. A recent immigrant, Safia, told us she had never heard of Elvis; the laughter burned and made her feel like an outsider. Two other students then shared that a similar experience had happened to them.

Sharing stories involves risk, yet Nimo and Safia’s risks freed others to do the same. Quiet Eduardo shared that he can’t wait to turn 12 this summer because then he will finally be old enough to hear the full story of his father’s deportation. Mirage stood up and shared the story of her hijab.

I believe that my job — the job of a teacher — depends on my ability to transform my classroom into a safe place for stories. Some days I feel like the stories shared weave together like a fine fabric. Other times I feel like the threads are not yet in the loom. Every day, the story of my classroom remains the same: creating a place where stories help us uncover what the Dakota refer to as “Mitakuye Oywasin” — We are all related.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Casey Mathern and James Clinton - Red Wing’s Collective Community Stories Bubble Up From Its Underground River

Casey Mathern is Curator of Objects and Exhibits at the Goodhue County Historical Society in Red Wing, Minnesota. She holds an MA in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture from the Bard Graduate Center in New York City.

James Clinton is the Education and Outreach Coordinator at the Goodhue County Historical Society in Red Wing, Minnesota. James holds a BA in History, with a local and environmental history focus, from Winona State University.


Strengthening connections between personal experiences and the physical environment has important consequences. Recent studies in the Journal of Environmental Psychology suggest a positive correlation exists between a sense of place and environmentally-conscious behavior. Public engagement with the humanities disciplines – especially public history – is key to making the connection between place and stewardship. A central component of the Water/Ways project is bringing together a humanities-centered understanding of water and water stewardship.

The Jordan Creek used to flow through downtown Red Wing, MN, dividing the town in half. Pedestrian bridges were used to cross the ravine and railings can be seen in this photograph from the 1870s. The river has been diverted underground with culverts and landfill.

Story-gathering has been at the core of our We Are Water MN exhibit and program development. We had to do better than regurgitating the accepted, dominant narrative of Goodhue County’s rivers and streams. In fact, we recently mapped a walking tour that will interpret the Jordan Creek – now running underground – and trace its historical route through downtown Red Wing. The walking tour will be a feature of our local public program schedule when we host Water/Ways this fall.

Initially when we asked residents if they had a Jordan Creek story to share, we received puzzled looks. We discovered that appealing to people’s senses helped them articulate their connection to place. Their faces lit up with a smile as they named a precise location and offered us personal anecdotes; dairy farmers used the Jordan Creek in the basement of the farmer’s store to chill their milk cans, and you can only hear the creek during spring thaw if there has been heavy snowfall. When we entered Johnson Tire, a family-owned and operated business located directly over the Jordan Creek, we asked the owner if he had ever seen the Jordan Creek. We were quickly corrected: “You mean the Jordan River?” Until that moment, we hadn’t thought much about the distinction between a creek and a river – nor had we thought it particularly mattered. We were slightly taken aback. “Is that what you call it?” we replied. The owner’s response wasn’t rude, but matter-of-fact: “That’s what it is.” We listened to the store owner and knew to use the search term “Jordan River” in our archive, which yielded new results.

The Jordan absorbs individual stories and inspires a collective memory among residents that is concerned more with the ordinary quotidian than the rare, focused on the lived experiences of all rather than the exceptional few. In Red Wing, the Jordan anchors experience to the landscape and contributes to our community’s sense of place. We hope Water/Ways inspires individuals who take time to explore the exhibit and participate in some of the activities to realize their connection to place and advocate for the future of their local water.

Visit the Water/Ways traveling exhibit in Red Wing at the Goodhue County Historical Society from October 1-November 13, 2016. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Rebecca Wade - Learning New Lessons at the Minnesota Humanities Center Educators’ Institute

Rebecca Wade is a special education teacher currently working as the Coordinator of Professional Development for the St. Paul Federation of Teachers. Rebecca earned her B.A. in Language Arts, a 7-12 Secondary Teaching License, a K-12 EBD License, and a Master’s in Special Education from the University of St. Thomas. Rebecca has participated in the Educators’ Institute at the Minnesota Humanities Center as well as participated in curriculum development that incorporates absent narratives. Rebecca lives in St. Paul and enjoys spending time with her four daughters.

I’ve lived on the east side of St. Paul for 23 years and knew nothing of the Humanities Center for most of those years. About five years ago, I discovered the Humanities Center when they were collaborating with the Multicultural Resource Center on curriculum development. The curriculum collaboration was focused on the history and absent narratives of folks from the Rondo Community and the west side. At that time, I was teaching at Obama Elementary, which is located in the Rondo Community, and thought this looked like an exciting summer project. I had no idea that this project was going to open up so many opportunities for me to continue learning and working with the Humanities Center. Every single experience there has been filled with learning, collaboration, and joy, but the 2014-15 Educators’ Institute impacted and influenced me in ways I never really thought possible.

The Educators’ Institute focused on increasing student engagement, and as a teacher, I know that student engagement is vital for accelerating learning. But this kind of learning – about how to increase student engagement – was something new, something I didn’t learn in teacher prep classes or in any professional development I received while teaching.

Diving into absent narratives, the power of story, of place, and ways of knowing and being was energizing, invigorating, and challenging. I was forced to question how I allowed students to show up each day and how I let their voices be heard in the classroom. Were they able to be their authentic selves in our classroom?

And every day when I would walk into my classroom, I would think about the narratives and the story of each of my students. What did I know? What was I missing? How were their voices heard or silenced? And then my students would enter the classroom…and I knew. I knew that I was not fully honoring and valuing all the brilliance that they had within them, all the narratives and stories that were deeply buried that they so desperately wanted to share with each other.

When I reflect back on that year and all that I learned about my students, it is clear in my mind that the Humanities Center’s Educators’ Institute was transformational for my teaching and for me personally. As I continue on my life path, I am intentional in seeking out the stories of others and intentional in hearing and listening to the absent narratives of those that I connect with on a personal and professional level.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dr. Kim Heikkila - Oral History and the Power of Listening

Dr. Kim Heikkila is an oral historian, educator, and independent scholar. She taught U.S. and women’s history at St. Catherine University for more than 10 years, and is author of Minnesota Book Award finalist, Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Women in Vietnam (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011). In 2006, she won the Oral History Association’s Post-secondary Teaching Award for teaching community college students to conduct interviews with Vietnam Veterans for the Veterans History Project. She is a Minnesota Humanities Center Echoes of War Discussion Leader and will help facilitate community conversations about war, memory, and military experiences this October in the Echoes of War discussion series held at Carleton College.

We live in a world that emphasizes speaking. From the momentary stories captured in a tweet or Facebook post to those gathered for StoryCorps or Humans of New York, from digital podcasts to published memoirs, all around us people are narrating their own lives, speaking their own truths, often to powerful effect. Although sometimes this self-expression becomes mere self-promotion, in its best instances it reflects a desire to connect to others through story – one of the central goals of the humanities. Yet even the most compelling stories need an attentive audience for their true power to take full effect. In my experience as an oral historian whose work has focused on women Vietnam Veterans, I have witnessed the power not just of storytelling, but of story listening.

Oral history is a rigorous research method that seeks to enhance our understanding of the past by recording, preserving, and disseminating firsthand accounts of historical events from those whose perspectives are not typically reflected in the dominant narrative. For my book, Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Women in Vietnam, I interviewed 15 nurses from Minnesota who served in the U.S.-Vietnam War, many of whom had shared very little about their service. They wanted to correct the historical record that had relegated their experiences to a footnote, but sometimes doubted that their stories would interest anyone else.

They needn’t have worried. Book sales exceeded expectations and large crowds flocked to events across the state to hear the nurses speak. Although it was not easy for them to share their war memories, almost all of them told me that they felt empowered for having done so, for having been heard. For the first time, one nurse told me, the people in the small town she’d left to join the Army Nurse Corps knew what she’d done during the war. Another said that the outpouring of love from male Vietnam Veterans who crowded into overstuffed rooms to listen to the nurses made the pain of reliving her war worth it. The benefits of listening also extended to those who heard: other nurse-Veterans who saw their experiences reflected in those of the Minnesota “sisters”; the former Navy corpsman who said reading the nurses’ stories helped him come to terms with his own service; the brother of one of the nurses, who stood up after hearing her speak at the Minnesota History Center and said, with tears in his eyes, that he finally felt as if he knew his own sister.

The power of oral history stems from its ability to bring storytellers and story listeners together. As Vietnam Veteran and author Tim O’Brien reminds us in his book, The Things They Carried, “Stories can save us. …The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head.” In helping to give voice and audience to those whose stories have often been neglected, oral history sheds new light on the past, enhances our present, and points the way to a better future.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Scott Glew - The Humanities as a Bridge Over the Civilian-Military Divide

Scott Glew is a dedicated Veteran of the Minnesota Army National Guard from Elk River who clearly demonstrates his motivation to create a better world. After eight years of service, including a deployment to Iraq, he began his career as a social studies teacher. Motivated by a belief that a better future requires an informed and engaged citizenry and that education is its foundation, he is dedicated to creating a classroom environment where students are challenged to use history, civics, geography, and economics to deepen their understanding of the world and make a difference. Beyond the classroom, he is committed to improving and advocating for social studies education. Scott is an active leader in social studies curriculum and instruction within his school district. He serves on the board of directors for both the Minnesota Council for History Education and the Minnesota Council for the Social Studies and is conducting graduate research on citizenship and peace at the University of Minnesota. Scott is a recipient of the 2015 Veterans’ Voices Award.

Despite the fact that our country has been actively at war for nearly 15 years, the American people are more disconnected from our military than ever before. Collectively, we revere and love to cheer for “The Troops,” but we pay little attention to what we ask them to do, and we have a shallow understanding of what it means to experience war. In a democratic society, the consequences of this disengagement are dire. As citizens, we cannot properly empower policymakers to make good decisions about war and peace if we ourselves are not invested in the results. My concern grows even more when I think about my students, none of whom were alive on September 11, 2001. From their perspective, war is both normal and something from which they are disconnected. As our conflicts happen far away and directly involve only a tiny percentage of our fellow citizens, these connections will not develop on their own. We must consider how the humanities can help to bridge the divide between citizens and their military.

I have seen the Minnesota Humanities Center’s focus on “what connects us rather than what divides us” in action during the past year through their Veterans’ Voices program and I believe its current impact is real and its potential for the future is limitless. This Sunday, September 11, people from around the state will gather at the Veterans’ Voices Award Ceremony to recognize and hear the stories of Veterans who are making extraordinary contributions to their communities. This highly visible event is just one piece of an extensive program that is successfully connecting citizens to the diverse and complex stories of Veterans. Our collective understanding of war and peace will become richer as Veterans are empowered to share their experiences, as educators gain access to relevant professional development and resources, and as the general public comes together in dialogue to challenge conventional narratives and perceptions. The Humanities Center, through their Veterans’ Voices program, is making this happen.

My concerns are deep, but so is my hope for the future. I believe that the public truly cares about the service members and Veterans among us. While my cynical side often feels that our common expressions of support are superficial, the optimist in me believes that we want to do more, but aren’t sure how. Additionally, I get to work every day with students who are curious about the world around them and genuinely interested in stories of service and the topics of war and peace. They are also excited to collaborate and make the world a better place, and are hoping that we will show them how. It is imperative that we focus on the humanities in our communities and emphasize powerful social studies education in our schools so that we can share with each other-- as citizens--the opportunities and tools we need to grow together and develop meaningful connections with the people we send to war.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

David O'Fallon - A Proactive Response to Minnesota’s Education Gaps

David O’Fallon, PhD, is the President and CEO of the Minnesota Humanities Center.

Liberal and progressive Minnesota and its two largest cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation. Repeat: in the nation. There are multiple education reform efforts underway to address this gap. These efforts have made little difference. Recent state test scores reflect that the “gap” was not significantly changed despite millions of dollars invested and years of multiple efforts, from the state legislature through the state department of education through city school systems, charters, private foundations, and multiple funders. According to Minnesota Public Radio in July 2016:
  • Nearly 70% of white students passed the subject tests in both reading and math. Black students saw proficiency rates around one-third (33%). Similar gaps exist for American Indian and Hispanic students. Those disparities remained virtually unchanged from last year.
  • Minnesota ranks 34th among all states for on time graduation, 48th for black students, and dead last, 50th, for Latino students.
Considering this, and drawing upon both research and experience with multiple education improvement and reform efforts at the state, national, and international levels, and drawing upon its work and partnership with the multiple cultures of the state, the Humanities Center evolved a strategy driven by these questions: What can the humanities bring to this challenge? What can the Humanities Center do in response to this continuing crisis?

We made the following observations:
  • To frame the education problem as an achievement gap is the wrong frame. This thinking has led to less than satisfying results because it calls for the wrong remedies.
  • A school is a complex human community—not a technical problem to be fixed with technical remedies (e.g., high stakes testing, narrow measuring tools).
  • Communities identify the source of the problem as a relationship gap—between teachers and students, between a school and its several communities.
  • Relationships built on authenticity and integrity are the foundation to student engagement.
  • This foundation of engagement of strong relationships is essential for sustained achievement.
  • Relationships live in community and culture.
The Humanities Center is emerging as a thought leader in education reform in Minnesota. The Humanities Center is reframing the problem through our resources and professional development opportunities based in the humanities, which build the relationships essential to education achievement and learning. Here are some examples of ways that you can get involved with the Education Strategy:
  • Professional development beginning with the foundational workshop Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives, offered on November 2, which serves as an introduction to the core strategies and concepts of the Humanities Center’s approach to community engagement through absent narratives— voices often left out or marginalized. Participants practice strategies that will help them engage others with respect and empathy.
  • Learning through an indigenous perspective with the Bdote Field Trip, offered on September 25,that establishes the importance of place in learning and relationships, starting with the Dakota. (Bdote is a Dakota word meaning where two waters come together—where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers converge is central to Dakota spirituality and history.)
  • Bdote Field Trip participants

  • More than 900 educational resources on the Absent Narratives Resource Collection, including original literature by Minnesota writers, online resources, videos, and our traveling exhibits.
  • A week-long Summer 2017 Educators’ Institute will provide educators with an ample opportunity to engage deeply with the Humanities Center’s proven approach to increase student engagement through absent narratives. This experience will help guide participants in developing classroom strategies for bringing absent narratives pedagogy into practice, while building a community of educators committed to relationship-based educational change in Minnesota.
    A team of educators from Rochester Minnesota
Learn more at mnhum.org/mned.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Water/Ways Educator Resources

Are you an educator in need of lesson plans related to one of our most vital natural resources—water—or, perhaps, just a citizen who would like to explore the subject in more depth? If your home is Minnesota, you should plan to visit one of the six host sites of the Smithsonian’s Water/Ways exhibit touring the state in partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center. We encourage all Minnesotans, including educators and their students, to explore this national look at water as well as the local, companion exhibits created by each host site – We Are Water MN. For a list of dates and host sites visit mnhum.org/waterways.

If, however, you can’t make the trip to visit one of the exhibit host sites, you will be happy to know that the Humanities Center, in conjunction with its statewide Water/Ways partners, has created several free resources. These free resources not only provide additional background information, but also include lesson planning suggestions and teaching guides, which are designed specifically for upper elementary through middle school ages and relate to these unique water-focused exhibits and planned activities. There are four resources available on the Humanities Center’s website, as well as links to materials created by some of our partners:


One Drop:  This is designed to help participants/students learn about pollution through scientific method and better understand water as a finite resource.


Water Journeys:  This resource will help participants/students learn more about relationships with water through a Dakota creation story as well as their own personal stories.


We Are Water:  Participants/students will learn about point of view and about absent narratives – those water-related stories that have been left out of the usual, mainstream narratives.


Community Stewardship Activity:  This resource, aimed squarely at educators and their students, shows them how to put their learning into action by hosting a water fair.

For additional resources, you can explore our Absent Narratives Resource Collection. Using that search term "water," you will locate other resources related to the We Are Water MN tour—such as downloadable audio recordings of water stories shared by a variety of Minnesotans—and will have chance to explore other water-related documents and videos, including several episodes of tpt’s Minnesota Original series that showcase a specific artist’s perspectives on water.

We hope you enjoy your water journeys – wherever they take you – and let the stories and information brought to light by Water/Ways and its resources continue flowing into and through your life!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tom Burket - Story Skills: Generational Throwback Time

Tom Burket is a writer at Haberman, a full-service marketing agency based in Minneapolis that tells the stories of pioneers making a difference in the world. He majored in English and is the classmate you remember from middle school who liked diagramming sentences. Nine of the ten last books he purchased were nonfiction. The tenth was a Star Wars Force Awakens prequel. Twitter: @tomburket. Snapchat: tomburket.

On a national tour in November 2014 to promote his latest book The Peripheral, author William Gibson visited the Twin Cities. He read a brief passage from his book and concluded with a Q&A. The evening passed quickly, yet one of his comments remains fresh in my mind and helps me think about storytelling from a generational perspective. And surprisingly, right now it has everything to do with the likes of Snapchat and Facebook Live.

Gibson is the author of a more than ten books plus dozens of short stories and articles. Responding to a question about his writing career — largely in science fiction — Gibson said his roots as a writer began in his earliest days of childhood because of where and when he grew up. He said, to paraphrase the author, that the place and time mattered because the older generations in his life were skilled at communicating through stories. In fact, he noted that was their default way of communicating. It was tradition still going strong, according to Gibson, in the parts of South Carolina and Virginia where he lived as a boy in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Skilled at communicating through stories. As soon as he said it, Gibson made me recall my own early years. My grandparents and the older adults of their generation seemed to have a story for every occasion. My parents, aunts, and uncles fully participated in the story-swapping that accompanied family get-togethers. Gibson’s remarks struck a familiar chord, but he also went on to say he thought the world had changed, largely due to technology and the pervasiveness of mass media in the latter half of the 20th century. He felt like a lot had changed just in his generation.

What’s happening now? What about the newest generation coming of age today? Two of its teenaged members are my kids, and I see twin forces in their lives that point to a new way of communicating that might in fact be a throwback to the past. As smartphones have grown more powerful and high-speed connectivity has become more available, new frontiers are opening. On this landscape, short-term and live-streaming video is telling the story.

This trend moves well beyond carefully curated, reverse chronological streams of photos and words. It’s all about what’s happening now. If it’s filtered, it’s filtered on the fly. What one person captures and broadcasts blends with what other people are capturing and broadcasting. Often, it’s mapped to specific places.

To me, the new story emerging contains within it the perspectives — literally, the perspectives — of everyone who’s participating. Some events and observations will be remembered. Much will be forgotten. But when the ephemera of the live stream evaporates in the heat of the next big thing, what will remain are the feelings and emotions that will continue to shape our individual and collective narratives – perhaps even for generations to come as it’s retold.

Joan Didion said we tell ourselves stories to live. Members of the newest generation — like many before it — are telling themselves lots of stories right now using the tools of the age. It’s not mass media. The potential is mass awakening.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Alyssa Auten - Ponds, Lakes, and Artesian Wells: Thoughts On My Water History and Future

Alyssa Auten has lived on and in water her entire life - near a pond, a canal, and multiple lakes and rivers. She was even a synchronized swimmer in high school. Alyssa currently serves as Executive Director of the Nicollet County Historical Society (NCHS) and enjoys preserving and promoting history, water-related or not!

I spent the past weekend at my family cabin, celebrating my 31st birthday and commemorating the selling of my childhood home. Family and friends came together to celebrate life as well as the bittersweet end of an era. On Sunday night, as steaks sizzled on the grill, our dear family friend Linda excitedly offered to “run down to the well” to fill the pitcher of water for dinner. She seemed so eager to go to the edge of the lake to the artesian well that’s been running since the cabin was built in 1950. She said there was something special about using the ever-flowing well, even though it’s the same water that comes out of the kitchen faucet.

This and other snippets I’ve heard lately about using water have made me ponder where our water comes from--especially as my involvement in the Smithsonian’s Water/Ways exhibition has recently crossed over the one-year mark. I think we all take water for granted; it’s inevitable when one grows up in a house with running water--and at a cabin with an artesian well. My hope is that, even though the NCHS is a history organization, our involvement in Water/Ways will not only teach the public about the history of water in our area, but will also inspire our guests to think more carefully about how they use water.

During the six weeks NCHS and its 24 partners host Water/Ways there will be over 20 programs available to the public. From ‘water chakra yoga’ classes to tours of the St. Peter Wastewater Treatment Plant, we’re aiming to help the public learn about past and present water stories. Not only are we offering a variety of ways to interact with water, we are trying to act as example in the effort to improve local water quality. Recently, we installed a large rain garden on the north end of our museum. This rain garden will catch water runoff from our large, metal roof, and filter it through native plants before it heads down to the nearby Minnesota River. There are so many ways to better care for water and we hope our historical society can lead the charge. After all, knowing where we come from and how we got here should help us improve our future, and keep our clean, fresh water flowing for generations to come.

Visit the Water/Ways traveling exhibit in St. Peter at the Nicollet County Historical Society’s Treaty Site History Center from August 13-September 25, 2016.