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Arts & Culture
In this series you’ll hear stories about the health of the river, it’s place in our local culture and history and the wildlife and the humans who’ve made the river their home. The interviews were gathered by volunteers from the Little Miami River Watershed Network – and they were made into our radio series by WYSO producer Jason Reynolds.

The River Speaks: The Health of the River

The Little Miami River as it winds through John Bryan State Park in Greene County, Ohio.
Jason Reynolds
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WYSO
The Little Miami River winds through John Bryan State Park in Greene County, Ohio.

Guy Jones moved to Dayton 40 years ago. Disturbed by the condition of the Little Miami River, he became a conservationist and an advocate for our waterways. Jones, a Lakota, is a founding member and president of the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans. He was interviewed by Gary Victor as they sat by the river.

So, start us off with your name and where you grew up?

"My name is Guy Jones. I was born and raised on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota. Then I landed here in Dayton, Ohio, in 1981. Being raised on the reservation and being raised in that traditional lifestyle, I always made an effort to associate myself with the waterways because that's the health. You look at the health of the community. It’s reflected in the water. And when I first came here, I was really appalled at the condition and the health of the rivers."

"I'd gone to the Little Miami to make an offering and to say some prayers, and there was a gentleman there. He was fishing, and I asked him how it was and everything. He was like, “Well, one of them kind of looks a little putrid.” And when I looked at it, I was like, 'Oh, my God!' There was like ulcers on this fish, and it came out in the river."

"That told me a whole lot, but when you look back and you go upstream, you begin to see not only residential area, but industrial area and commercial area. All that runoff ends up back into the river. And so I began to talk to government officials and getting involved. But it was that one fish…"

That's a microcosm.

"Right!"

What changes have you seen, maybe in the health of the ecosystem along the Little Miami. Have you seen anything that is positive or are you seeing signs that portend in the other direction?

"It seems like there's a far greater consciousness amongst various walks of life now. And that's the one thing that excites me because for a long, long time, the people that were conscious of that and who were creating and trying to bring about those awarenesses, they were up in their age. But today, there's an awful lot of young people. They're young, and they're getting younger. Even high school kids now are talking about the health of Mother Earth. There's a lot of hope there."

Photo of Guy Jones
Guy Jones
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Guy Jones says the health of the river is now improving thanks to increased awareness and activism.

What messages would you—if you could convey anything to the younger generations, what would you say for those that are maybe listening to this in terms of protecting and appreciating this resource?

"The one thing is this expression 'Mni Wiconi,' that means 'Water is Life.' There was this movement several years ago on Standing Rock, and it was in regards to some fossil fuel pipelines, and they would say, 'Water is Life,' which is very true. And they would say 'Mni Wiconi! Mni Wiconi!' And that was the Lakota word that they used, and people still today use, 'Mni Wiconi.' And 'Mni,' that's 'blue blood,' and the water is the blood of the Earth, and the trees are the lungs."

"I'll take my children. We go to the river, and we walk along the river. We talk, and I share stories with them. And we make our offerings because the water is essential in that we have that relationship with the river. I tell my kids the waters hold memories. And if you pay attention, you can hear them and feel them."

The River Speaks: An Oral History of the Little Miami River is a collaboration between WYSO and the Little Miami Watershed Network. It is funded by Ohio Humanities and The Nick and Edna Weller Charities.