Reading the November 6th and 11th postings on the Friends of the Limberlost Facebook Page about the December 2nd Wabash River Watershed clean-up event supported by a grant from the Wabash River Heritage Corridor Commission, with assistance from the Friends of the Limberlost, brought to mind an exhibit I attended this fall at the Indiana Historical Society (IHS) entitled “Rivers, Rails and Roads”. The exhibit closed in late October and was described in an IHS press release as follows: “The exhibit showcases sketches, photographs and maps to illustrate the changes in transportation over time as well as first-person texts and oral histories that explain what it was like to use and work for various modes of transportation.” The press release explained, “People have traveled across Indiana for thousands of years. Before and just after contact with Europeans, indigenous peoples connected their communities with networks of rivers and trails. With European explorers, fur traders, and settlers came new vehicles of transport, such as flatboats, keelboats and horse-, mule – or oxen- drawn carriages and wagons. In the 1800’s, steamboats became a popular and more convenient form of river travel.”
One part of the exhibit that especially caught my attention described the relationship of the Myaamia people to water. Sometimes referred to as the Miami, these peoples lived in Indiana – especially in the Wabash River Valley - before European settlers began to arrive and some remained after most were relocated westward. If you have a chance to hike at Wabash River Rainbow Bend Park, you can walk along a historic trail used by indigenous peoples, and visit past and present channels of the Wabash that are part of the Limberlost Conservation Area. As part of the museum exhibit, Hoosier artist and contemporary citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, Katrina Mitten, was quoted as follows: “To the Myaamia people, rivers are more than just a transportation route. The Myaamia believe that they originated as water beings in the rivers and were called on by the creator to pull themselves onto the land. Since then the river provided sustenance through fish and clams, as well as fertile soil to grow crops like corn, beans, and squash. Additionally, the rivers connected the villages and settlements together for trade and community gatherings.”
Rivers are important throughout Indiana, and Katrina Mitten was one of fifteen artists who created an art canoe as part of the White River Alliance’s 2022 Art Canoe exhibition project. On her canoe is the word keekiihtanki, which means water is life flowing. As part of her artist statement on the work, she explained that the canoe “has images of water beings and protectors because we as indigenous people have a responsibility to all of life that is dependent on clean water including we human beings."
The Friends of the Limberlost, South Adams Trails, Wabash River Heritage Corridor Commission and other organizations and individuals certainly share this sense of responsibility as demonstrated through meaningful events such as the December 2nd clean-up.
Adrienne Provenzano is a Friend of the Limberlost, Advanced Indiana
Master Naturalist, and NAI Certified Interpretive Guide.