Healing Place Collaborative

Networks diagram of the Healing Place Collaborative. Image courtesy of Mona Smith
Networks diagram of the Healing Place Collaborative. Image courtesy of Mona Smith.

By Martin Case

Healing Place Collaborative (HPC) is an association of 40 professionals from many fields who share an interest in the Mississippi River as a place of healing and a place in need of healing. Indigenous-led and artist-led, the group includes language activists, educators, environmentalists, scientists, therapists, community organizers, public officials, and scholars.

Each HPC member is engaged in healing (broadly defined) on some level—individual, cultural, communal, environmental. Their work is often intense and frequently frustrating. HPC meetings start with members simply stating what they are doing, and commenting on each other’s work in a congenial, collegial atmosphere. The meetings provide a rare chance for highly motivated change agents—who typically run at full speed with their noses to the ground, isolated by specialized languages—to consider their work as part of a larger community where people bring diverse approaches to addressing a common purpose.

HPC emerged from the intersection of two groups.

  • In 2013, the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board completed a plan for the cultural and historical interpretation of the east bank of the Falls (one of Minnesota’s most significant physical sites). Core members of HPC were drawn from the Advisory Committee of that project.
  • Other core members are part of Mapping Spectral Traces, a “trans-disciplinary, international group of scholars, practitioners, community leaders, and artists who work with and in traumatized communities, contested lands and diverse environments” (as stated on their website).

Dakota media artist Mona Smith, a member of both groups, invited people from these groups to meetings that resulted in HPC; since then, other individuals and organizations have joined.

The deceptively simple operations of HPC—regular meetings without agendas, for whoever can show up—are founded in several complex cultural and academic concepts.

  • The central image of HPC is bdote, a Dakota word that means confluence—of rivers, and more broadly of ideas. The Twin Cities are located at one of the most important bdotes in Dakota culture, the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Grounded in this physical place, HPC operates as a philosophical bdote for the work of its diverse membership.
  • Members of Mapping Spectral Traces bring the concept of “deep mapping:” interdisciplinary explorations of human relationships to places of trauma. HPC is itself a deep mapping project.
  • In general, HPC exemplifies the concept of “broad cross-field pollination,” an idea introduced at the group’s inception by member Patrick Nunnally of the River Life program.

In the course of three years of regular meetings, members have invited each other to contribute to each other’s work. The River Life program at the University of Minnesota, for instance, included HPC members as presenters in a national symposium on water. Dakota Language Society leaders guide visitors to cultural historic sites for the Minnesota Humanities Center, based on Mona Smith’s Bdote Memory Map (key participants in all these organizations are HPC members). These intersections have emerged organically rather than from agenda-laden planning. Several home-grown collaborative projects have also developed, such as the construction of a “Dakota Language Table” by member artists, landscape architects, and language activists. St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board and the Knight Foundation have provided major support to sustain HPC.

Responding to Three Constellations of Questions

Since October, 2016, members have been considering how HPC can serve as a model for motivating, sustaining, and strengthening social change efforts, by responding to the three constellations of questions presented here.

HPC members who have responded to these questions include:

What is your work and how did you come to be part of Healing Place? How does the term “Healing Place” describe your work?

[Jewell Arcoren] I work in non-profit arts and behavioral health. I work as a program director for a language revitalization program for American Indian babies sixteen months to five years of age, to teach them the language, to make it accessible. I was invited to be part of HPC to help the group grow, to help it move toward sustainability.

Dakota language is a key or pathway for me and for my community to begin to recover from historical trauma. It is a key connector. In my opinion, the Dakota language is a keystone species [a species on which others in an ecosystem depend]. This land, and the people here, need our Dakota language to recover so that we can all heal. We need our songs to be alive: our planting songs, our coming of age songs, our end of life songs, our ceremony songs.

[Ethan Neerdaels] I came to be involved with Healing Place through the work we do in bringing our stories of place back to the Oyáte through our language. I came to this through sacred sites tours. [The Minnesota Humanities Center provides guided tours of sites that are significant to Dakota people, based on Mona Smith’s Bdote Memory Map.]

The work I do is about re-strengthening of Dakota way of life, Dakota language, and relating to Dakota Makoce. It’s about giving people back the language they have, and about the continual raping of our grandmother earth. Our language is the only language that originates there; there are words that define the relation and processes in that place that are not accessible in science. Star knowledge as another way of looking at the stars and bringing language back.

The term “Healing Place” describes the work I do with Dakota language in a way that is reminiscent of the teachings from some of our elders. The elders say that our people are exemplified through the tripod of the Othí (tipi). If you remove one of the three poles from the structure, it all collapses. These three poles of Dakota identity are our language (Dakhód iápi), way of life (Dakhóta Wičhó’ȟaŋ), and our aboriginal territory (Dakhóta Makhóčhe). Through the re-strengthening of our language, the people thrive!

[Piero Protti] I have been working with Rebecca Krinke and Alexandra Olson to develop a Dakota Language Table for Healing Place that can act as both a physical item and a symbolic item in bringing Dakota language and culture to the forefront of collective awareness.

[Rebecca Krinke] I am a multi-disciplinary artist and designer working across sculpture, installations, social practice, and public art. In broad terms, my creative practice and research deals with issues related to trauma and healing—moving from body to space—exploring trauma as it moves from individuals to societies to ecosystems and back again.

My sculpture has focused on embodying trauma—often using the body, furnishings, and aspects of domestic architecture as a starting point. My installations and site works often focus on ideas of recovery—through contemplative, transformative environments. So perhaps what this means is that I am interested in healing, and in working as an artist to ask questions about / consider aspects of healing.

[Heid Erdrich] Mona asked me into Healing Place. My work grounds itself in my witness of language as medicine. Words, speech, expression—all allow truth-telling, connection, recovery. My work with visual art centers on how we assign meaning and how that harms and heals. My work is poetry, on page, stage, in collaboration with filmmakers, animators, dance makers, artists.

[Dan Spock] Mona [Smith] and I collaborated on the first iteration of “Cloudy Waters” [a multi-media installation at the Minnesota Historical Society] and other things. My work as a museum exhibition maker and congenial provocateur provides opportunities for historical truth-telling as a platform for embracing the challenges of the future and healing historical trauma.

[Laura Salveson] In both of my jobs—director of Mill City Museum and coordinator for the Saint Anthony Falls Heritage Board—I’ve found engagement with groups of people to talk about this place to be essential to my work. My participation in the Healing Place Collaborative deepens my awareness and connection to this place at St. Anthony Falls.

[Martin Case] I spend a lot of time researching and presenting the connections among men who signed US-Indian treaties on behalf of the federal government. It gives a picture of how one relationship among people and the natural world—property—works to supplant other relationships. I think of my work as “remedial” history, in both senses of the word. It presents basic information that a lot of people don’t have at their fingertips. And it lays out the geography at this important cultural and historical fault line, which reframes the questions we ask about how we all got to where we are. Reframing, though painful at times, is necessary to healing, as for example in healing a broken bone (I got that idea from Mona).

[Shanai Matteson] I’m concerned with how we move from ownership to relationship. I think about this as someone who is a storyteller; it’s an interior question, how we individually move from colonialist to relational frameworks. I come from science education and art, which both have a colonialist origin. Through our studio, and through the Water Bar, we try to do things that are useful, starting from the place where we are, asking how we can help people think and practice differently. It starts with paying attention to local and Indigenous knowledge. Healing Place Collaborative is about my own journey, learning, and experience.

[Colin Kloecker] With the Water Bar, we find that people don’t know where their water comes from. You can’t have healing if you don’t understand the challenge. These meetings underscore the value of coming together, sitting in a circle and becoming rooted in place and purpose. Purpose is a kind of healing; it’s really important to us.

[Kate Flick] I wrote my graduate school application essay about healing landscapes. My focus is on learning to work in a culturally relevant way, which is a big step forward for people with an academic lens, who tend to think of place as a locater. We typically have a paradigm of capital and ownership with land; why not a healing paradigm with landscape? I’m shaped by my work at the Menominee Forest, a differently managed forest that is older, that has many species being harvested, relationships based on reciprocity. They know there who the place wants to be, respond to what the place wants to be in terms of intentional plantings. I didn’t realize that other places didn’t know what they want to be until I went to Itasca, which is such a young forest.

[Joyce Lyons] One answer is that I am moved and inspired by the people I meet here. My work is about place in ways that resonate with what is said here. I am an artist. I was part of an exhibition at All My Relations gallery (part of the attempt to get the State Capitol to change its art) and learned that I was the first non-Native person to have work on the gallery’s walls. In considering the perspectives of First People in my work, I am learning much and have much yet to learn.

[Christine Baeumler] One challenge in my work is that it’s not mine, but is community, with a lot of partners. I work with communities on healing urban places that have been contaminated through industrialization and the extreme violence that has been done. There are so many echoes here to my work at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary and Wakan Tipi, where we see the effects of militarization and the complicitous relationship to railroads and pipelines. It creates a disorientation with time; this seems like the 1860s.

I met a number of people here through Mapping Spectral Traces, and I feel this has reoriented me in relation to this place, to history and this country. It’s important to make space for other beings that share our corridor, like pollinators. Thinking about this emergent process—what else wants to be present—is something I get from this project.

[Kate Lamers] I am a landscape architect, more specifically a planner and designer of Minneapolis Parks, and more specifically still—managing three parks on the central and upper riverfront. A landscape architect 130 years ago helped ensure that there is a lot of public space, but that’s lacking in the upper river. The park board is working on this, and on ancient waterways that now flow through pipes. We are trying to use the power of public and water to bring these places back.

My hope is that the city refocuses on the Mississippi River so that it is seen as a most vital corridor through the city—green and healthy and alive and cherished. I think different communities within Minneapolis have, and could have, different relationships with this river and I want to understand how this river can become important to them. The park board is mostly involved with physical changes, resulting from discussion with people who use or might use the parks. We hear young people talk about wanting to do something good in the world; we can’t start healing ourselves until we start working on what is wrong with the earth.

My understanding is that the Mississippi has always been sacred and vital for the Indigenous community, but I suspect much of that relationship has been damaged or taken away. I think the creation of public parkland on the central and upper riverfront has the potential to help heal some of the damage done in the past.

[Dave Stevens] The Mill City Museum’s work aspires to be like Healing Place, in making the case for what happened here at St. Anthony Falls. We want our programs to balance the story that is told in the permanent exhibits, enrich the stories that are told about St. Anthony Falls. We want balance to the celebratory tone of historical interpretation by including Indian removal, labor history, changing relations to land. We are taking baby steps, but these are goals. My own work is about coordination, not so much delivering programs myself. I want the museum to be a gathering space, like Healing Place, creating opportunities for people to meet and talk to each other.

[Patrick Nunnally] I want to be part of something that is healing and placed. All people here need to think about and understand that we are on Dakota homeland and on the Mississippi River. Our work [at River Life] is relationship based, and we need multiple relationships and perspectives on this place. HPC is a natural fit.

[Jennifer Tonko] I’m the project lead for the We Are Water MN partnership, formed to tell Minnesota’s water stories collaboratively, bringing together personal narratives, historical materials, and scientific information. By bridging many different ways of learning about and thinking about water, we strengthen Minnesotans’ relationships with water. Healing place is a way of describing one of the main goals of the We Are Water MN partnership: “building Minnesotans’ relationships with water.” Being in relationship with a place is a constant dance of working to heal the place and letting the place heal you.

I came to Healing Place because I was asked to by the Humanities Center, and because of the Humanities Center’s and my ongoing relationship with Mona Smith. And I’m becoming part of the group because of all of the wonderful members and the lessons they have to teach me.

I think “Healing Place” describes more than my work, more than just what I get paid to do. It’s true for more of my life. Thinking about place healing is something that I now do often. It’s still not quite the first place my mind or my heart goes when I’m confronting a problem or a stressor, but I’m working on it!

How has Healing Place contributed to the work you are doing? How do you benefit from your association with HPC? Why do you stay with it?

[Rebecca Krinke] I “stay with it” because I am a core member and made a commitment. I also originated the idea at a core member meeting of creating a sculptural “Dakota Language Table,” so I will deliver on this commitment. On the meta-level, I am interested in learning from Dakota people about Dakota worldview. I feel it is so necessary for every human being to question/enlarge their sense of self and the world.

[Piero Protti] The interaction with people from such a diverse background of expertise and points of view is certainly enriching both for professional focus and for personal awareness of all the good resources and forces that we have in the region. I plan to maintain a line of work that is relevant to the work done by the collaborative. We can all do our part in creating the world we want the next generations to have.

[Laura Salveson] I think awareness and connection to place and to the process of healing is beneficial, and inspirational. I am energized by hearing of others’ work in the Collaborative, and by being able to offer what I can in terms of time, talent, and space to allow some of the collaborations to grow. I have been honored to have some Healing Place events take place at Mill City Museum, and those gatherings and public events are healing for people and for this place.

[Heid Erdrich] My entry has been slow, so I can only say that knowing this group exists gives me hope and a sense of belonging that an introvert actually needs. I know you all are here to reach out, especially as things grow troubled. I stay with it out of respect for the vision of Mona, Jewell, Martin, and all.

[Dan Spock] I need other perspectives, outside of my work and family. Healing Place provides new perspectives, memory in action, healing, enrichment, companionship.

[Ethan Neerdaels] Through working with Healing Place, we have been able to bring awareness to the historic and ongoing problem of Dakota language loss in Minnesota, while at the same time promoting the values, history and sovereignty of Očhéthi Šakówiŋ to an audience we may not have reached otherwise. It is every American’s responsibility to understand the legal agreements between the Dakota people and the United States, as evident while reading article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

[Kate Lamers] I have had very little contact with Native Americans in the past, or any people with a history of historical trauma. So just being around people who have been deeply immersed in the Indigenous community is helpful. I think the best way to learn about people and their feelings and relationships is to spend time talking with them. The fact that everyone is doing work around the river and with community is also really a helpful way for me to start to create a larger and more diverse picture of what is happening with water in our community. I hear about some really great projects and also news about very concerning things. Now that I have gotten to know the people, I would want to stay with it even if I wasn’t working on directly applicable projects. I benefit right now because it gives me insight into conversations I wouldn’t otherwise have. I expect I am benefitting in other ways that aren’t clear yet.

[Jewell Arcoren] I love the way it is a creative movement; we are all aware that we are shift shapers. We are stronger together. It is a mutual and co-beneficial association; it is reciprocal. HPC members have collaborated with Wicoie, whereby we have been able to bring children from language programs to sing for various events. This in turn is positive reinforcement from a broader community around language revitalization for our children.

[Jennifer Tonko] With the We Are Water MN partnership, we’re constantly working to build relationships with people who are working to protect water and for racial justice, who are community organizers, writers and thinkers and influencers. I’ve met or deepened my relationships with so many wonderful people through Healing Place who are exactly these people! I know that some Healing Place members will become collaborators on this or future projects. I know that some Healing Place members will be advisors and mentors to me.

Healing Place has provided a space for me to learn from others who are striving to build relationships with the natural world, including the people that inhabit it. This is sometimes a professional experience—helping me build strategic connections or learn from others’ professional ways of working. This is sometimes a personal experience—for me, at least, it’s an almost spiritual space where I can work out what I’m thinking and feeling about what “relationship” and “kinship” and “learning from” really means—especially in relationship with Indigenous people. This is complicated for me. I am not an Indigenous person myself. So I want to learn from others without taking; I want to speak truthfully in my own language and acknowledge when I’m learning from another language. And Healing Place provides me a place to wrestle with and practice these things.

I stay with it because I love the people, I’m fascinated by the projects everyone’s working on, and because I have a lot of learning to do!

[Martin Case] A lot of my work is done in isolation, so I really appreciate the chance to share my work with intelligent, big-hearted people, and to have my work informed by them. I’m especially appreciative for the richness of the languages represented by Healing Place members—the Dakota concepts and vocabulary, and the rich metaphors of “natural science.”

Is Healing Place more than the sum of its parts? If so, what? Is Healing Place in existence when we are not around the same table? Is the group something beyond just the people when they are together? What do you see as the direction of your work with Healing Place?

[Piero Protti] Healing Place is more than the sum of its parts, yes. The strongest actions can come from putting together all the good work the HPC members do in their own professions. Once this all comes together in an organized way, we can create a community that celebrates its greatness based on the strengths of its members and how they enrich the whole, and not just as specialists. Hopefully my work (after graduate school) will maintain a line of values relevant to the goals of the collaborative. We can’t do it all alone.

[Heid Erdrich] Exactly, the “more than the sum of the parts” is what feels so good—knowing a larger group aligns with one another’s work—and our own. Our relations. My vision is not clear—but I am hopeful, and, well, kinda faithful—this will make itself known—a path will open. I’m open. Most likely, I think I will bring others to this work.

[Rebecca Krinke] I do not know the direction of my work. It reveals itself in each unfolding moment.

[Laura Salveson] It seems that a new connection is made at every gathering or meeting in which I participate. It is exciting to see artists and others connect and be energized by one another’s ideas and commitment.

[Dan Spock] Yes! Emphatically more than the sum of parts. Because of Healing Place, we get support, offers of resources, and strengthened capacity.

[Christine Baeumler] I think it’s an ecosystem: each of us has our own projects, but there’s something that happens when we get together. As Ian Biggs [co-founder of Mapping Spectral Traces] would say, we have mycelium connections [a vegetative network], which persist even when we are not together. It’s an ecology rather than an organization.

What is sustaining here? What you end up doing is sometimes different from what you thought you would be doing. I don’t get this from the other things I belong to, in which agendas are more specified. It’s beyond just the five or however many steps, but affects how those other links happen.

A value for me is that it feeds into teaching and other projects that I do. It has been great to have a mix of ages and experience, and it would be good to keep that going and expand the effort.

[Joyce Lyons] Thinking of a group as an entity [rather than a process] is a more linear, older model. This might just be a groundbreaking approach, which might make us nervous. There is something happening that emerges in how we talk.

[Martin Case] The absence of an agenda is a strength. Anything that happens here is organic, not official or pre-designed. On the other hand, Healing Place, with its minimal organization, is creating a space for these things to emerge. It’s not about driving an agenda, but strengthening what people are doing.

[Mona Smith] That leaves me both concerned and excited about having a staff. This is supposed to be like the river, unchanneled, flowing lots of different ways.

[Kate Lamers] I believe so. . . it’s a very positive group. Even when I am feeling down about my work, I feel very supported and hopeful when I think about how positively the people in HPC view my work and have high hopes for it. I am not sure what the future for my work with Healing Place will be, but am comfortable with not being sure at this point. I am hoping the group will stay involved with my projects and help offer feedback and ideas and connections that will help me improve them. I would also love to see someone (ideally the Park Board) do a project on race, ethnicity, the river (or a river), and green space that would help inform all of our river projects.

[Jewell Arcoren] HPC moves in social justice circles and reshapes narrative; it addresses stereotypes, it listens, it responds. It is developing an Indigenous-led model. I love how Patrick Nunnally was leading the way with the water symposium [a River Life project that included presentations from HPC members]. That was a powerful example.

[Jennifer Tonko] Healing Place is more than the sum of its parts, but it is what it is because of the people who are in it. What it means to me can’t be easily summarized. Healing Place is not just Collaboration of Person A + Person B and Collaboration of Person C + Person D. It’s the relationships of the people; it’s the connectivity of the ideas; it’s the influence of the hundredth drop in your bucket that finally reinforces a concept in a way that you can understand it.

I would like to keep participating, certainly. I’d love to do something that [HPC member] Bruce Chamberlain spoke about where we go to each other’s places/experience each other’s project and ask for feedback and get some “in place” perspective.

[Ethan Neerdaels]
 Yes, Healing Place is an example of how people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences can come together around a common dream and begin to make healing relations with one another.

How We Are Caring From members of the Healing Place Collaborative. November, 2016. Listen, Prepare, Keep Hope, Find Each other, Sit Still, Remember, Rage, Resist, Take Care, Work, Create, Redefine Commitments, Walk, Write Tour Story, Witness, Allow Grief, Be Tender, Forgive, Grow, Raise Children, Tend, Learn New Ways, Choose Relationships.

As seen in the responses above, Healing Place Collaborative is “open-ended.” Members join through a variety of mechanisms and from a variety of motivations; connections to the group, what members bring and what they take away, vary among individuals; and even the vision of what Healing Place is might be described more accurately as a kaleidoscope that as a portrait painting.

Yet members have no problem in describing their work as “healing” in nature, whether that work is language revitalization, landscape architecture, history, program planning, therapy, or art. And a strengthened connection to place is a highly valued result of participation in HPC.

The innovative nature of the HPC model is indicated by the reluctance of members to describe the group as a distinct institution. Phrases such as “mycelium connections,” “ecosystem,” and “common dream” point to the importance of HPC as a relationship rather than an entity – a value of both indigenous and artistic perspectives that provide leadership.

During November 2016 discussions about HPC, member Shanai Matteson noted concepts that she heard emphasized by participants, presented here as “How We Are Caring.”

Recommended Citation

Case, Martin. 2017. “Healing Place Collaborative.” Open Rivers: Rethinking The Mississippi, no. 5. https://openrivers.lib.umn.edu/article/healing-place-collaborative/.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.24926/2471190X.2374

Download PDF of Healing Place Collaborative by Martin Case.