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Water as Spirit in Minnesota--Mike Swan

As told by Mike Swan
Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

Story Narrative:

This story was collected as part of a collaborative effort to record the state of American lakes, rivers, and waterways as well an attempt to uncover what water means to Americans. Listen to other stories recorded by the Minnesota Humanities Center for their We Are Water MN initiative, an outgrowth of our national traveling exhibition "Water/Ways."  

“In asking this question of what does water mean to me, I could answer it in two different ways. One is the spirituality side of me being Ojibwa, and how the Ojibwas are kept to the land and using ... You know, we're depending on water for everything. You know, even our food source, our drinking every day, living by it, and doing our culture.

But there's another side of me too. My background is biology, and you know, I was a aquatic biologist going to college. Basically, what I studied was the interaction between water and land, and lakes. They call it limnology. Looking at that, you know, the sediments, plants, insects, and everything else like that, and how it relates to it.

One of the things, especially Ojibwas, is that the wild rice, the reason why we came here was there's no other place in the world, basically, where wild rice grows. It only grows here in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and part of Canada. And the reason why it grows there is because the water's clean. It can't exist in polluted waters, and it can't compete with other plants that can outgrow it, like water lilies or weeds, or any that looks like that, lake weeds or anything like that. They can't all compete.

And a rice heap could be dormant in the bottom of the lake for around seven, eight years, or something like that before it even germinates. But the conditions have to be right for it to germinate.

The thing that's unique about Minnesota is, there's a point here where, actually, three major watersheds converge. The Mississippi, the Great Lakes, and the Hudson Bay. So we are ... Basically, Minnesota's at the top of the watershed, basically. And the water is pretty pristine around this area. And that's the reason why the wild rice grows in here.

Now we've had ... Like I'd said, we had we had words for it. We came out ... We migrated to this area because of the rice. That's in our prophecies, the Ojibwa prophecies. Scientifically, we need clean water to drink, and to conserve it. And, sometimes here, in Minnesota, we take it for granted because we have so much. And to keep it clean it's, you know, that's not one person, but all of us. We all have to share that responsibility that we are on the top of the watershed. It will be two years when it'll affect the people down in New Orleans, whatever. But we need fresh water, but it's how clean is that gonna be?

It's something to think about.”

Asset ID #3903

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