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Can Native knowledge combat climate change? Join us for a discussion with tribal leaders.

In World
January 02, 2024

ONEIDA – In early October, I watched the sun set over a field of corn on the Oneida reservation in northeast Wisconsin. Next to me, members of the tribe’s white corn co-op chatted with a PhD student who’s been working with them to test different cover crops on the field, which are designed to protect the soil underneath.

They remarked that the corn had had its most successful year yet despite the drought that plagued Wisconsin all summer, and were glad to see the cover crops had provided environmental benefit without reducing yield. Equally important, there was also a meaningful connection: planting those seeds amid the corn echoed the tribe’s traditional practice of planting corn, beans and squash together so they could nourish each other.

Tribes across the Great Lakes region are often referred to as the original stewards of the land. They draw on their thousands of years of expertise to protect and preserve the land, air and water, a role that’s supposed to be guaranteed by treaty rights. And they’re keenly aware that our relationship with nature is at one of the most critical junctures in history.

But non-tribal entities don’t always listen.

Bazile Minogiizhigaabo Panek, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and consultant for the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals based in Arizona, walks along a trail at Prentice Park, just south of Lake Superior in Ashland in September 2023. Panek has seen positive shifts in recent years with more agencies, researchers and organizations asking to consult with tribes and integrate traditional ecological knowledge.

My trip to the corn field was part of the Journal Sentinel’s reporting of a four-part series about how Indigenous people are pushing to protect our natural resources, even when it’s been a steep uphill battle.

My colleagues Caitlin Looby, who covers the Great Lakes, and Frank Vaisvilas, who covers Indigenous issues, reported the series with me. The project was supported by a climate change reporting grant from the Poynter Institute, through funding by the Joyce Foundation.

In February, we’ll host a panel discussion in Green Bay about the series, bringing together tribal leaders and government officials we interviewed for the stories and launching a conversation about how Indigenous wisdom could provide a path forward to make the land more resilient, the air clean and the water safe.

Caitlin, Frank and I will be joined by Lea Zeise, a founding member of Ohe·láku, the Oneida white corn co-op; Al Gedicks, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council and emeritus professor of environmental sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse; Bazile Minogiizhigaabo Panek, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and a consultant for the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals; and Chris Borden, acting national tribal liaison for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Robert Van Zile Jr., chairman of the Mole Lake Ojibwe Tribe, sprinkles Rice Lake with tobacco in September 2023, asking for a blessing on the waters. The lake is home to the last remaining wild rice bed on the Mole Lake Sokaogon Ojibwe Reservation, and one of the few ancient beds left in Wisconsin.

Robert Van Zile Jr., chairman of the Mole Lake Ojibwe Tribe, sprinkles Rice Lake with tobacco in September 2023, asking for a blessing on the waters. The lake is home to the last remaining wild rice bed on the Mole Lake Sokaogon Ojibwe Reservation, and one of the few ancient beds left in Wisconsin.

The event will be held Feb. 19 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Green Bay, in the Huron/Ontario meeting room. Attendees will get the chance to sample Indigenous cuisine before the program begins at 7 p.m.. The event is free and open to the public.

You can get free tickets here, and catch up on the series below:

Madeline Heim is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about environmental issues in the Mississippi River watershed and across Wisconsin. Contact her at 920-996-7266 or [email protected].

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Free event will explore how Native knowledge can combat climate change

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