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Traveling exhibit shares stories about water

"We Are Water" will be at Pipestone's Meinders Community Library through Sept. 13.

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Area residents enjoy the new We Are Water exhibit. (Leah Ward/The Globe)

PIPESTONE — For the next few weeks, Pipestone will play host to a regionally relevant traveling exhibit.

"We Are Water," from the Minnesota Humanities Center, tells the story of how people are connected to water, touching on agricultural, economic, health and spiritual aspects of why water matters. It also features "water stories," in which local community members share how water has impacted their lives, as well as facts about Pipestone's water history.

The exhibit will be housed in the Meinders Community Library through Sept. 13.

The library hosted an opening Thursday evening to introduce the exhibit to the community. Library director Jody Wacker explained that the purpose of We Are Water is to help people be more connected.

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"We are here because of stories," she said. "We are here because of water."

Several speakers shared brief remarks about their personal histories with water.

Jennifer Tonko, a humanities officer with the Minnesota Humanities Center, explained that several organizations combined to work on the exhibit, including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Health.

It's particularly special that Pipestone is one of the exhibit's host cities, Tonko noted.

"One of the fundamental truths about this place is that it is Dakota homeland," she said. Native Americans all over the continent have a long history and cultural connection with Pipestone's water.

Water is also essential for the success of agriculture, which sustains the region's economy and way of life. Additionally, many stories about how people arrived in their homes have to do with water, Tonko said.

Edgerton crop/livestock farmer Randy Spronk spoke to the importance of water in agriculture.

Additionally, Jason Overby, manager of the Lincoln Pipestone Rural Water System and a fisheries biologist by trade, shared that having good water keeps people in area and helps communities thrive. Even today, he said he still receives regular calls that wells have run dry, and people need water immediately.

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Pipestone Mayor Myron Koets explained that the city of Pipestone recently spent $14 million to improve its water treatment facility, and now has some of the best tap water around. Camas Johnson, meanwhile, offered an Ojibwe song about being thankful for the water.

Travis Erickson, a quarrier at Pipestone National Monument, covered the spiritual connection to water. First Nations believe that water has memory that can be accessed in order to learn from the past.

"Water is important," he said. "Treat it with great respect, or we won't be here much longer."

Gabe Yellowhawk, a bioscience technician at the Monument, also shared an explanation of his job studying the local ecosystem, noting that water affects even the smallest of creatures.

As a final act, the Arts and Mentoring Project's cast of Disney's "Moana Jr." sang a couple of songs from the musical, which will be performed July 23-25 at Hiawatha Pageant Park and features water as one of the musical's characters.

Following the performance, guests were welcomed into the library to explore the exhibit. They were also invited to participate in a water bar, with water samples from six different places. They were asked to guess which water was from a Pipestone tap, and also vote on which tasted the best.

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Erica Volkir, executive director of the Pipestone Area Chamber of Commerce, tastes water to try to guess which of the six samples is Pipestone city water. (Leah Ward/The Globe)

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The opening drew dozens of area residents. Many more are welcome to visit the exhibit as long as it's up in the library.

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