Monika Lawrence's Portfolio
Mississippi Headwaters, Minnesota, Itasca State Park, historical site

And here it officially begins. Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, MN. The Mississippi River emerges from several lakes and underground water flows that are fed mostly by precipitation. Yet Lake Itasca was declared to be the official headwaters and a channel bulldozed open in the 1930s. Surrounding swamps were drained and the ‘iconic’ rock rapids installed for easy access to attract tourists to the area to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression in northern Minnesota. Nomadic tribes hunted in the area for more than a thousand years and Woodland people settled there for centuries, leaving burial mounds behind. Even when Henry Rowe Schoolcraft supposedly ‘discovered’ the true headwaters in 1832 (and gave it a made-up name), he couldn’t manage without the help of Ozaawindib, a local Ojibwe leader and guide. The logging barons soon set their eyes on the old-growth pines, ceasing cutting trees only in 1920, almost three decades after a bill on creating a park to protect the headwaters area was signed into law.

Big Bog, Minnesota, Big Bog Recreational Area

The scar. Big Bog Recreational Area, MN. The Big Bog in northern Minnesota is a small remnant of the gigantic glacial Lake Agassiz. It’s a peat and moss swamp in a harsh climatic environment where rare plants are found but trees are growing very slowly due to a lack of nutrients. In the early 1900s, farmers cut a straight-line drainage ditch through the bog in the hope of farming the land. The project failed, and the bog’s slow recovery makes the cutline still visible several generations later.

Lost Forty, forest, old growth forest, Minnesota,

Well documented. Near Bemidji, MN. Test boreholes reach down to the water table to monitor the flow of contamination by petroleum hydrocarbons after a pipeline rupture northwest of Bemidji in 1978 released 10,000 barrels of crude oil. Each year, hundreds of scientists from across the US and the world study the effects of the accident at the now formally-named National Crude Oil Spill Research Site. Even today, almost no vegetation grows in the immediate spray zone because the oil- contaminated surface repels water.

Bemidji, Minnesota, Mississippi river, bridge, Ojibwe, Ojibwe language, historical site

Anishinaabe Ikwe – Ojibwe woman. Bemidji, MN. The young Mississippi River in northern Minnesota flows from Lake Irvin into Lake Bemidji, still heading north before it turns south on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. The shoreline in this area had been sacred burial ground for Lakota and later also Ojibwe people for several centuries before Europeans began to settle there in the late 19th century. Today most of the burial ground is paved over for parking lots, commercial buildings, and three bridges in the town of Bemidji.

Sugar Point, Sugar Point Battle Ground Pow Wow, Pow Wow

Still dancing. Sugar Point, MN. Two steamships loaded with soldiers of the 3rd US Infantry, US Marshalls, and local reporters left Walker, MN on October 5, 1898, and headed over Leech Lake towards Sugar Point, home of the Pillager Band of Chippewa Indians, to apprehend Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig. The Pillager elder had previously protested unfair logging practices on tribal land. Companies often underestimated the value of dead-and-down timber harvested or even set fire to forests to declare them dead wood. Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig also experienced the ‘bootlegging’ scheme where Native Americans were arrested for minor reasons (or none at all), sent to court several hundred miles away, and then released for insufficient evidence without any help to get back home. After yet another arrest, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig called for help from his village and escaped. Wanted notices were issued and about 80 soldiers from Fort Snelling (today’s Minneapolis) soon followed, leading to what is considered the last Indian War. The one-day standoff ended with six dead soldiers and no losses on the Pillagers’ side. Based on false reporting, rumors of an ‘Indian Uprising’ soon caused a panic in the region’s towns. President McKinley fully pardoned all Ojibwe people involved in the events surrounding the battle after a hearing of the Pillagers’ grievances and investigations into the logging companies’ corruption. A reform of the reservation’s forest management led to the establishment of a state forest reserve in 1902, eventually becoming the Chippewa National Forest in 1928.

Paul and Babe, Minnesota, Bemidji, rally, climate change, people

Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox Babe. Bemidji, MN. The legend about the giant lumberjack originated in northern logging camps in the late 19th century, where Paul Bunyan (who never really existed) was considered a hero for cutting down trees in huge numbers. By the 1930s, most of northern Minnesota’s old growth pine forests had been felled. When most of the numerus lumber mills disappeared soon after, it was felt that a roadside attraction was needed to bring in motorized tourists. While the cement ensemble is still one of the most photographed tourist sites in Minnesota, the plaza on the Lake Bemidji shoreline has become a rallying point in recent years for protests against crude oil pipelines crossing sensitive waterbodies, as well as for demonstrations for women’s rights, the need for action concerning climate change, and rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

wagons, graffitty, sky, Minnesta, Bemidji, George Floyd, Hardell Sherrell

Heavy load. Bemidji, MN. The violent death of George Floyd made international news and created protests against racism across the world. While the names of many victims of police violence are known, even more are not. Hardell Sherrell was a young black man who died in pain under horrible circumstances through neglect while in police custody in Bemidji in 2018. Jail guards and even medical providers believed the 27-year-old inmate was faking paralysis despite his pleas for help. The investigation into his death was re-opened in 2020 only after his mother Del Shea Perry waged a long fight with the justice system. A pathologist found that Hardell died from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a treatable condition that attacks the nervous system causing paralysis. Perry filed a federal lawsuit because of her son’s death in custody.

forest, tubes, test boreholes, crude oil, pollution, oil pipeline, test site

Well documented. Near Bemidji, MN. Test boreholes reach down to the water table to monitor the flow of contamination by petroleum hydrocarbons after a pipeline rupture northwest of Bemidji in 1978 released 10,000 barrels of crude oil. Each year, hundreds of scientists from across the US and the world study the effects of the accident at the now formally-named National Crude Oil Spill Research Site. Even today, almost no vegetation grows in the immediate spray zone because the oil- contaminated surface repels water.

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