Thursday, May 19, 2016

Jennifer Tonko and David O’Fallon - Sharing the Power in Minnesota Water Stories: Water/Ways Exhibit Opens in June

Jennifer Tonko is the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Program Officer for Community Engagement and Traveling Exhibits, including the new Water/Ways exhibit.

David O’Fallon, Ph.D., is the President of the Humanities Center. An avid fan of water, David uses and drinks water every day—sometimes more than once!

“The water itself needs to be protected. Not for political reasons, but for environmental and health reasons, for traditional reasons, that this water is considered a relative.”—Chairman Kevin Jensvold, Upper Sioux Community

Here in Mni Sota/Minnesota, water is part of who we are. Water connects us. Yet the need to protect the water in this place becomes more urgent every day. Did you know that the aquifers that supply drinking water to the Twin Cities metro area are being drained faster than they are being replenished? Or that only about 5% of the wetlands that once made up the southern and western regions of Minnesota are still intact?

“All three of our sons were baptized with the water that we live around and that has always been a very powerful part of our family. “—Carolyn Lange Hatlestad, Games Lake and Lake Andrew

How can the humanities address the need to care for water? By sharing the stories of individual Minnesotans who are inspired by water, healed by water, hurt by water, and fed by water, the humanities nurture water. And by facilitating community conversations—in many places and including many voices—to wrestle with all of the ways that water shapes us:  health, homes, livelihoods, arts, recreational pursuits, and by collecting your stories of how water shapes you.

“It was definitely the river that brought me back. I bought a cabin on the Kettle and once I got my cabin I just had to live there. I’ve always felt the pull of the river.”—Ruth Pfaller, Kettle River

The Humanities Center is part of the inaugural group of five states (Minnesota, along with Florida, Idaho, Illinois, and Wyoming) chosen to launch the Smithsonian’s Water/Ways, an exhibit that explores the central nature of water in our lives from a cross-disciplinary perspective.

 “What we need most in Minnesota is not more laws that try to require or reward clean water practices—they’re last resorts. What we really need is to establish an ethic of clean water practices.” -- Governor Mark Dayton, Minnesota

The Humanities Center and its local partners, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Historical Society, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Section of the American Water Works Association, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, have developed an exhibit, We Are Water MN, that reinforces Minnesotans’ individual relationships with and responsibilities to water. We Are Water MN shares information on water quality around the state juxtaposed with the voices of multiple Minnesotans (some of whom you’ve read here) including farmers, fishers, canoers, ricers, parents, potters, and teachers reflecting on what water means to them and their lives. This exhibit also provides a space for visitors to add their own water stories.

These exhibits open at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center in the New London/Spicer area on Saturday, June 25. The tour continues over the next year to five other host sites in Minnesota, closing in April 2017.

“What would I say to water? I think I would ask it to take care of us. And I would say that I am doing my best to take care of it.”—Katie Himanga, Lake City

How has water shaped you? Is there a lake or a river that pulls you? How do you protect water? What is your water ethic? Add your story to the We Are Water MN conversations on our Facebook page, learn more at, or follow us on Twitter at @wearewatermn.

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