I am excited about Minnesota Humanities Center leadership and for making the We Are Water MN (WAW) program available to partner-host sites across the state. I want to share a bit about our experience at UMN Morris.
The We Are Water program was an important catalyst for our community to build relationships around water. How does a program like this work as a catalyst? It does it in many important ways. Back in 2019, before the pandemic was on the radar, UMN Morris reached out to MHC to find out if they were going to do another year of the program. We were excited when they confirmed that they would be inviting host sites again. As a host site we began a dialogue with core partners about the framing and aspirations that animated the WAW program. I use the word “program” because while the exhibit is a key aspect of We Are Water – the goals of the program are bigger.
The WAW program invited us into a conversation that asked, “whose voices needed to be amplified in our community”– and asked what organizations may want to partner with us on our adventure. How would we grow our relationships?
UMN Morris was very fortunate because Clean Up the River Environment (CURE) and Stevens Soil and Water Conservation District came forward and said they wanted to partner in this work. We created a core planning team. We called ourselves the West Central Minnesota We Are Water Partnership team! Definitely a mouthful. This core team identified and brought in other regional partners to help us advance our shared goals.
In fall 2020, just a few months into the pandemic, we hosted the We Are Water exhibit at UMN Morris in the Morrison Gallery. There were a lot of unknowns – but we went for it. We were also fortunate to integrate the “Why Treaties Matter” exhibit from MHC into the same space. Our team believed that there were many intersections between these two exhibits, and we wanted to amplify Native voices. Our team identified important other voices in our region we wanted to amplify. MHC organized interviews of these community members so they could be heard in the exhibit.
Together, our aspirations grew. We created a new website. We worked with partners, like Land Stewardship Project and UMN Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships to create a new webinar series, called Sharing Stories: Growing Relationships with the Land. We wanted to amplify voices of people with unique relationships with the land, Native Americans, women, and youth leaders. We held an art contest, did water testing events, a freshwater mussel field day, and we supported Stevens County Historical Society on a new installation. We created a virtual exhibit that focused on the main messages of the in-person WAW exhibit. These videos are amazing and available to share widely!
Our WAW journey continues. We surveyed farmers in our region about the work they are doing to protect soil health and water quality. And, during Earth Month 2022, we had a Morris Water Fest where we showed films that highlighted our relationship with water.
Strong themes emerged during our experience: Strengthen friendships. Build new relationships. Grow our regional water ethic through action and experimentation. And, amplify what we are doing. Amplify voices. Amplify partnerships. Amplify action. Amplify hope.
Apply now to be a We Are Water MN host site!
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By: Troy Goodnough
Troy Goodnough serves as sustainability director at the University of Minnesota Morris. Troy was the first sustainability coordinator hired in the University of Minnesota in 2006. Troy works with students, faculty and staff to develop and implement sustainability initiatives. His work includes creating new educational programs, outreach initiatives, and renewable energy projects. Troy provides leadership with the Upper Midwest Association for Campus Sustainability, Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership, West Central Clean Energy Resource Team, and other sustainability-focused groups. During his tenure as director, Morris has earned multiple AASHE STARS Gold ratings, the Second Nature Climate Leadership Award, and recognition by Sierra Club, Princeton Review, Minnesota Environmental Initiative and other organizations.