The Whanganui weeps for the St. Louis River

Carla Arneson

This is a tale of two rivers.

The Whanganui, New Zealand’s third longest river, flows with dignity, having been given personhood in 2012.

The St. Louis, Minnesota’s historic river, flows with despair, having been degraded and abused by industry for the majority of a century. Now, Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) have sounded its death knell.

In April 2013, Minnesota pulled out of a $1 million mercury research project, TMDL, aimed at helping the St. Louis River recover its once-healthy waters.

Instead of holding industry accountable, notably mining, future sulfate and mercury studies will reportedly build on research conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, specifically the Land and Minerals division. But the mining industry is its biggest client and the primary reason for the existence of Land and Minerals, a paramount conflict of interest for research.

Anaerobic sediments, bacteria, sulfates, mercury, methylmercury: all are inextricably linked to inedible fish, dying wild rice, and neurologically damaged children. “For fetuses, infants, and children, the primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development.” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Heavy metals and excess sulfates are cards being dealt the St. Louis River by industry non-compliance and agency non-enforcement, a losing hand in a tragic game that ultimately affects our children.

Essentially, Governor Dayton and the MPCA are selling our children to the highest bidder. It does not seem to matter that the Minnesota Department of Health found that 10 percent of newborns tested in the Lake Superior Basin of Minnesota have toxic levels of mercury in their blood. If our officials do not value the health of our children, what chance does a river have? Without a healthy river, what chance do our children have?

In 2012, as reported on TakePart, the Whanganui River was legally given its life. “Under a landmark agreement, signed in New Zealand earlier this summer, the Whanganui has become a legal entity with a legal voice.” In an email to TakePart, Suzanne Benally, executive director of Cultural Survival, wrote, “The recognition of the personhood of the Whanganui River represents a landmark moment in legal history. Nature cannot be seen solely as a resource to be owned, exploited and profited from; it is a living and sustaining force that needs to be honored, respected, and protected by all of us.”

Weep for the St. Louis River; we weep for ourselves.

”Ko au te awa, Ko te awa ko au ~ I am the river and the river is me” (Maori)