Mniówe at Healing Place Festival

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We had a great time on Saturday at the first Healing Place Festival, a gathering put together by our partners at Healing Place. Healing Place is an indigenous artist-led collaborative comprised of artists, educators, researchers, and activists who play leadership roles in articulating the vital role of the Mississippi River in the life of the Twin Cities. This festival was a public showcase of collaborative work by Healing Place partners. 

Dakhóta Iápi Okhódakičhiye (Dakota Language Society) and Healing Place have partnered with Water Bar to reimagine our pop-up as space for sharing indigenous relationships to land, water, place, language and story. We believe that honoring and learning from indigenous people and ways is key to all of our survival, and to healing our relationships with land, water, and each other. We've collaborated to host Water Bar like this before, but Saturday was the first time Water Bar was presented as Mniówe, a Dakota word that means a place to gather water and to gather with other people, like a spring or a community well. Mni means water, and ówe means (approximately) blood or life-blood of a place.

Water Tenders served tap water from Standing Rock Reservation (Missouri River), Minneapolis (Mississippi River), and water from a public spring in Eden Prairie. They also taught (or in my case, learned) some Dakota words relating to water and place. People who visited the bar were compelled to recognize that all of us in Mnísota (Minnesota) are already familiar with the sound and feeling of speaking Dakota. As this is still a Dakota place, Dakota language is infused into many of our place names, which were shared in the document pictured here.

Listening to the interactions with visitors, I was reminded, as I always am at Healing Place gatherings, that language matters much more than most people realize. Language is more than the words for things, it is vital to how we see ourselves, and how we imagine our relationships. Language tells us a lot about what a culture values, and it helps to shape and give voice to those values in our daily lives.

In the culture I grew up in - and the one that Water Bar works within most of the time - we have lots of words for talking about water that reveal the way we see it: As a resource to be controlled or exploited, or in better cases, to be understood and valued; But rarely do we see water as a relative whose fate is one and the same as our own.

This is one shift we could make collectively in order to live and live well as a whole: To live with water as a vital part of our culture, our places, and even our "family" in an expansive sense - in the past, and into the future. It is always amazing to see realizations like this come to people in the midst of conversations at the bar. When we slow down to taste water together, we also open ourselves to listening and learning together.

We can't say what difference these interactions will make in the long term, but we do know that being in conversation with partners and public visitors through Healing Place Collaborative has made a real difference for our work at Water Bar, in so many ways big and small. We know that small changes in the ways we relate to water and to one another can compel people to think and to act in ways that serve water and community.

The final picture here is of Čhokáta Nážiŋ, the Dakota Language Medicine Wheel Table, a new project developed by Healing Place partners, and another space for these conversations to take place.

The Dakota Language Medicine Wheel Table is a living and traveling gathering space for the Dakota language to be restrengthened through a deeper understanding of the interdependent relationships of the land, language and lifeways to the health and wellbeing of people that call Mnísota Makhóčhe (Minnesota) home.

The entire table is made of and held together without petroleum products. The woods used represent the four directions, four seasons, four activities essential to traditional Dakota life, and many other layers of meaning and story.  Dakhóta Iápi Okhódakičhiye and other Healing Place partners are developing activities that activate the table as a space to remember and grow these traditions and connections. It's an incredible project, and we were inspired seeing it in action!

To learn more about Healing Place Collaborative, check out this article published by Open Rivers Journal. If you are interested in hosting Mniówe or other Healing Place projects at your gathering, you can reach out to Healing Place through this website

Colin Kloecker