The River Is in Us: Fight­ing Tox­ics in a Mo­hawk Com­mu­nity

El­iz­a­beth Hoover

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction - RACHEL JAGARESKI

Univer­sity of Min­nesota Press (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $28 (360pp) 978-1-5179-0303-9

The River is in Us is re­ward­ing read­ing for any­one in­ter­ested in en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice or indige­nous peo­ple.

El­iz­a­beth Hoover’s schol­arly yet ap­proach­able The River is in Us ad­dresses the in­ter­con­nec­tion of na­tive peo­ple with their land and wildlife, and de­scribes the tox­ins in­fil­trat­ing Mo­hawk bod­ies from nearby in­dus­trial plants—pol­lu­tants which even con­tam­i­nate mothers’ breast milk.

The Mo­hawk res­i­dents of Ak­we­sasne—the lands strad­dling the St. Lawrence River in north­ern New York State and Canada—have been the fo­cus of nu­mer­ous, long-stand­ing stud­ies of in­di­vid­ual and en­vi­ron­men­tal health. Hoover’s ul­ti­mately up­lift­ing book as­sesses how the Ak­we­sasro:non won the fight to se­cure a more thor­ough cleanup of three ad­ja­cent Su­per­fund sites, as well as some re­dress for cul­tural and en­vi­ron­men­tal losses caused by the cor­po­rate pol­lu­tion. It also doc­u­ments the com­mu­nity’s work at the fore­front of de­moc­ra­tiz­ing sci­ence, push­ing sci­en­tists to adopt com­mu­nity-based method­olo­gies in de­sign­ing and im­ple­ment­ing re­search projects.

Hoover’s book is a good primer on Mo­hawk history, spir­i­tu­al­ity, and cul­ture, on con­tem­po­rary pub­lic-health and food-cul­ture is­sues, and on the pol­i­tics and sci­ence of en­vi­ron­men­tal restora­tion. Her work is not only rooted in an ex­ten­sive re­view of ex­tant lit­er­a­ture and sci­ence but is an­chored by her years of meet­ings with the Ak­we­sasro:non and the many sci­en­tists who worked with them.

Each chap­ter be­gins with an anec­dote or con­ver­sa­tion with some­one in the com­mu­nity, im­part­ing the suc­ces­sive pages with the indige­nous per­cep­tion of how out­side re­searchers, gov­ern­ments, and other play­ers af­fect and con­flict with them. Nu­mer­ous pho­to­graphs of the land­scape, and of Mo­hawks fish­ing, gar­den­ing, and in­volved in tra­di­tional cer­e­monies, along­side Hoover’s mas­ter­ful first chap­ter “driv­ing tour” of Ak­we­sasne, con­vey a pal­pa­ble sense of place and com­mu­nity.

The book nav­i­gates much thorny ma­te­rial, from cen­turies of con­vo­luted treaty lit­i­ga­tion to in­ter­tribal and in­ter­juris­dic­tional dis­agree­ments about Mo­hawk self-gover­nance, but Hoover pa­tiently un­tan­gles each sub­ject and makes the is­sues thor­oughly un­der­stand­able. The River is

in Us is re­ward­ing read­ing for any­one in­ter­ested in en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice or indige­nous peo­ple. It is heart­en­ing to learn how per­sis­tent ac­tivism brought about em­pow­er­ment and pos­i­tive change for one com­mu­nity.

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