Miikinaa: It's the word for a road or path in Ojibwe, or Anishinaabemowin.
It’s the season of road construction in Minnesota. I’ve heard said that in Minnesota there are two seasons: winter and road construction. Well, not exactly. I actually think we have six seasons- winter (biiboon), thaw, spring (ziigwan), summer (niibin), fall (daagwaagin), and freeze up, signified by the Anishinaabe name for November: Gashkaadino Giizis, the Freezing Over moon.
Like the rest of my north country neighbors, I love to have good roads. I appreciate the men and women who make our roads. This summer, I spent a good amount of time sitting in my car on the windy road towards my house, Becker County Highway 35, watching the miracle of road repair. I am grateful for the new road. I know the uneven road. I remember hard winter nights when I’ve slid off that road into the ditch and later saved by one of my neighbors. Our road system unifies us, in good and in bad.
This is the story of infrastructure: We all need it, and we take it for granted.
I think we don’t prioritize well. By that I mean, who gets what infrastructure when? It matters if the roads are unsafe. Perhaps the clarity to me came at Standing Rock in the bitter winter of 2016 and 2017 when I would drive that blocked off Highway 1806, into the Water Protector Camps. What I noticed is that there was no shoulder, pretty much whatsoever. That’s deadly. Add to that, the lack of adequate health care, and the fact that two of the poorest counties in the country are on the Standing Rock Reservation. That’s a killer.
In July of 2019, a big chunk of Standing Rock’s road system, Kenel Road, just washed away, leaving a 15-foot wide chasm. That was after the 7-inch rainfall. That collapse killed two non Native people: one who worked at the Standing Rock Clinic and another who delivered mail. That’s when North Dakota noticed. Roads are common ground. And one thing is for sure: Climate change brings more aggressive storms.
“It won’t get fixed anytime soon,” Carl Kidder, a road crew mechanic with the Bureau of Indian Affairs said. “My supervisor said it could be down a couple of months.” That’s basically the story throughout Native territories: We have the least infrastructure and the most need.
Traffic fatalities are among the highest on reservations; a combination of many factors, but infrastructure is one. Add to that, lack of access to good transportation, a few other variables, and the problem is clear. I would like infrastructure that is for all people, even poor people and Native people.
Expect more torrential storms and disasters. In this country, infrastructure repairs are rarely in Indian Country. As it turns out, nationwide, there are 13,650 miles of road owned and maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Of them, 75% are unpaved. A lot of the paved roads resemble a dangerous obstacle course. This impacts Native communities in terms of duress, expense of car repairs, injuries and death.
One community near the Mexico border will likely receive some big infrastructure improvements, or at least their Tohono O’odom neighbors. They will get “The Wall.” That $60 billion will not help our team. “The highest priority for our community is paving the 52 miles of dirt roads which serve our members. Based on current funding levels it will take approximately 59 years to pave these roads,” explained Pima Tribal President Martin Harvier.
There is a backlog of projects, referred to by the BIA as Deferred Maintenance, which means officials know there are roads and culverts that need to be fixed, according to Ron His Horse Is Thunder, transportation director for the Standing Rock reservation. The Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates deferred maintenance costs nationwide at more than $280 million, and the Federal Highway Administration and Congress haven’t appropriated enough money to keep up with the maintenance, His Horse is Thunder said. “We go to Congress every year,” he said. “They just don’t give us enough money to take care of the issues.”
For myself, take a look at Highway 225 from Osage to Ponsford. Highway 225 is newly repaired. (Very nice.) But I still have one question? Why are there seven 90-degree turns on that road? It’s a tricky road to drive when you’re a bit tired, that’s for sure, and there have been fatalities over the 40 years I have driven that road.
Why is it not the public interest to straighten out Highway 225? Simply stated, Minnesota is being asked to take private land under eminent domain for the Canadian corporation Enbridge for Line 3. That’s for a private interest and puts a new pipeline through pristine territories. I understand some farmers and RD Offutt might have hurt feelings, but really, a new 225, using eminent domain would be in the public interest, not just a new pave job. Perhaps it’s a rhetorical question, but it is valid.
In the end, I want infrastructure for people, not for corporations. And I want infrastructure equity. I want a clear miikinaa ahead., that which I hope to travel in my electric car. And, I want good roads for all.