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Earthen channels winding like serpents across a hilly landscape are not a common sight everywhere. They appear quite misplaced in a terrain that is highly undulating and rugged, covered with dry deciduous forests and dotted with rocky outcrops. Such a terrain is hardly conducive for agriculture, and irrigation seems unfeasible in villages located in the back of beyond. Yet the sheer will and determination of humans to challenge the impossible and put forth remarkable and ingenious works should never be underestimated.
Despite the centuries-long and ongoing erasure of Indigenous peoples from American history textbooks and classrooms, and the chronic consignment of Indigenous peoples to the past in mainstream American consciousness, it remains a fact that every inch of what is now the United States is land to which one or more Indigenous nations has a deep and abiding connection, and of which, at some point, the U.S. government at least tacitly acknowledged Indigenous ownership.
When They Blew the Levee is a fierce love letter to the power of community, one encoded to Black sociality, the broader American social imaginary, and the mythical power of the Mississippi River. In praxis, it is a political tool—a lyrical baseball bat—for the residents of Pinhook, Missouri to wield in a rally against the sustained structural violence of a biased justice system and racialized world.
Two sets of rivers in what is now known as Canada are vital actors in urban landscapes. The McIntyre and Kaministiquia Rivers in Thunder Bay, Ontario and the Assiniboine and Red Rivers in Winnipeg, Manitoba are sites of colonial violence and disappearance: in both cities, dead Indigenous people have been pulled from their depths.