Valuing Water MiniConference: An Environmental and Sociocultural Exploration of Water

Water is one of the most precious resources on the planet, and 2 million people in the US live without running water and indoor plumbing. This virtual MiniConference brings together scholars and practitioners, who work on the front lines to ensure that communities and ecosystems gain and maintain access to the clean water vital to all life on this planet. This event serves as the culmination of water access and policy related programming that has comprised the Western Center for Social Impact and Innovation's first biennial theme. This event is free and open to the public. Registration required.

Watch Conference Presentations

Program (Friday, March 19, 2021)

Myaamia Center Talk (9-9:50 am)

kinoononkonci saakaciweenki 'Emerging from the Deep' — Water in Myaamia Stories of Life, Death, and Rebirth

This presentation will introduce the audience to Myaamionki 'the Miami Indian homelands' and weave together the narrative threads of continuance and loss while paying special attention to the role of water in our history, our present, and in the narratives we craft about who we were and who we are.

George Ironstrack

photo of George IronstrackGeorge Ironstrack ( is a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. As a parent, storyteller, and teacher he is interested in expanding educational opportunities for all Myaamiaki 'Miami Indians' to learn more about our shared heritage as a people. George is the Assistant Director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University.

Kara Strass

photo of Kara StrassKara Strass ( is a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. Through her work in the Miami Tribe Relations Office, Kara strives to use Myaamia knowledge, values, and culture to inform her work supporting Myaamia students to help them be successful at Miami, but also to foster their Myaamia identities. Additionally, her work focuses on strengthening the almost 50-year-old relationship between the Miami Tribe and Miami University.

Panel 1: Environmental Perspectives on Water (10-10:50 am)

Hays Cummins

photo of Hays CumminsClimate Change and other human disturbances have severely impacted coral reef and other coastal ecosystems across the globe. Short term solutions include better coastal management, improved regulation of fishing resources and tourism activities. Long term solutions include weaning ourselves from fossil fuels and committing to green energy use.

Dr. Cummins ( is an oceanographer and marine ecologist. Until his recent retirement, he was Professor of Geography and Individualized Studies, an Affiliate of the Department of Geology, an Affiliate and Fellow of the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability and the former Harrison Scholars Professor in the Honors and Scholars Program. He is founding Co-Director of Project Dragonfly and science editor for Dragonfly magazine, and has led numerous international courses to the Bahamas, Florida Keys, Netherland Antilles, Australia, and Costa Rica. His research focuses on the reconstruction of past ecological communities in marine systems and understanding ecological change, particularly the impacts of global change on coral reefs. He has authored research papers and popular articles focusing on science and science education. He also has a passion for weather and astronomy.

Donna McCollum

photo of Donna McCollumLand development and building practices that too often do not consider environmental impact have caused both immense habitat destruction and fragmentation in this region. Stream systems play an important role as natural habitat corridors and connectors. Protecting these stream corridors from development increases forest habitat, protects critical wetlands, and supports biodiversity.

Donna ( is a freshwater stream ecologist, who has had many roles doing the work and teaching others how to do it. She has taught a number of courses in freshwater ecology, native plants, ecology and environmental science at Miami University and University of Cincinnati, as well as leading numerous informal educational programs. She also serves on the board of the Three Valley Conservation Trust, where she is a member of the Ruder Preserve Management Team. She currently splits her time between Ohio and Florida, engaged in ecological restoration efforts at Ruder Preserve and on her own land, which is in conservation easements.

Jim Vinch

photo of Jim VinchThe Clean Water Act (CWA) is a global gold standard that aims to prevent, reduce and eliminate pollution in US waters. Jim will discuss the history of the CWA, key challenges it faced in recent years, and the promise of the Biden-Harris administration.

Jim Vinch ( is a Senior Attorney with the US EPA's Water Enforcement Division, with a  specialization in Clean Water Act enforcement. He also serves on the Alumni Advisory Board of Miami University's Henry Pre-Law Center.

Panel 2: Sociocultural Perspectives on Water (11-11:50 am)

Roxanne Ornelas

photo of Roxanne OrnelasMni Wičoni, Water is Life
Water walks are Indigenous led ceremonies done in prayer along water bodies. The dedicated Water Walkers believe that each step taken is a prayer given in thanks and gratitude for the life-giving force of water. The prayers and songs sung throughout the walks are intended to heal the water and to acknowledge that it is alive and has spirit. The Water Walkers educate people along their walks. They invite communities to form a relationship with their watersheds and to defend it against misuse and pollution. Water is sacred and must be protected today and for those who will follow in seven generations. This is a storytelling, a story of the Water Walkers and the incalculable value they place on water. Mni wičoni, water is life!

Dr. Roxanne Ornelas ( is a self-described water protector. She has joined other Native Americans on water walks, a spiritual journey to raise awareness of issues threatening the health of waterways around the world. She is an Associate Professor of Geography and an affiliate of the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Global and Intercultural Studies at Miami University. Her research is focused on the geographies of Indigenous peoples with an emphasis on the protection of their sacred lands, Indigenous women and water, environmental justice, and human rights.

Rod Northcutt

photo of Rod NorthcuttWhat happens when art meets water infrastructure needs? Some residents in our own community have only intermittent indoor water access when the temperature drops, because their pipes freeze up due to lack of appropriate pipe/housing insulation. Rod and his students collaborated with local residents to install skirting and insulation on several mobile homes, in order to help ensure year-round access to clean indoor water.

Rod Northcut ( is an Associate Professor of Sculpture. He creates projects that aim to generate dialogs within communities through creative, makingbased practice. He maintains a studio in rural College Corner, OH, with his wife, Christina Miller. Refusing to work alone, he collaborates with other like-minded artists and collectives, cultural groups, and citizens of small communities to use art, intervention and dialog to address social challenges.

Kathleen Rugel

photo of Kathleen RugelKathleen will discuss highlights from a book she is currently writing called Getting to Water: How neighbor and nation share our most precious resource. The book documents the myriad of positive actions people are taking around the globe to acquire, share, and protect water on local to international scales.

Over the past 30 years, Kathleen ( has enjoyed a rich career as an artist, educator, organizer, aquatic scientist, and writer. Dr. Rugel received her doctorate in Aquatic Ecology in 2013 from the University of Georgia's Odum School of Ecology, focusing on groundwater/surface water connectivity in the southeastern US. She currently holds a Practice and Policy Fellowship at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

Keynote Address (12-12:50 am)

Judith LeBlanc

photo of Judith LeBlancJudith LeBlanc ( is a member of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma and director of the Native Organizers Alliance (NOA), a national Native training and organizing network. At the core of my work is the belief that organizing a grassroots, durable network of Native leaders and organizers who share a common theory of change rooted in traditional values and sacred practices is the critical foundation to achieve tribal sovereignty and racial equity for all. As we say in Indian Country, being "a good relative" is rooted in total awareness of the environment, past and future, and acting in harmony with all in the natural world and humanity, in the present.

Service Project (Saturday, March 20, 2021, 10 am - 12 pm)
Four Mile Creek Restoration in Oxford, OH, with Three Valley Conservation Trust

Ruder Nature Preserve

Restoring and supporting the health of our local rivers and streams is key to increasing the biodiversity of healthy native flora and fauna species. We are partnering with Three Valley Conservation Trust in Oxford to help with various Four-Mile Creek restoration projects, including boardwalk construction/staining, planting of native shrubs, honeysuckle removal, fence-building, etc.

COVID Precautions: This event will be outside, socially distanced, and proper mask wearing is required and will be enforced.

Registration Required:

Register for the Service Project

We will meet at the Ruder Preserve parking area on Shadowy Hills Drive, near Bonham Road, but parking there is very limited. Parking will be across the bridge, either at Leonard Howell Park or at the old gaging station just west of Four Mile Creek on the south side of Bonham Road (parking map).

Note: Weather reschedule date on April 10 or 11 (TBD), and we will text/email you by 9 am on March 20.