By Nancy Van Leuven
Election years always bring shrill, rhetorical debates about the environment, but a quiet gathering this week of tribal leaders at the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin offers a practical alternative to the headline grabbers of little substance. Yes, climate change (let’s quit confusing people with “global warming”) is real, and – like everyone else – tribal members are feeling the impacts of higher water temperatures (less fish) sizzling summers (scorched crops), and shifting rain patterns that alternate between downpours and droughts, famine or feast. People – real people – live this every day.
How native cultures bear the burden of climate change:
Several tribes in Montana are feeling a planting crunch: according to Manuel Morales at Aaniih Nakoda College (White Clay People), a shorter growing season means fewer plants are developing. “Long, cool days and nights mean the bees are showing up later, causing pollination of plants to take longer and not enough time!” he said, an observation echoed by Francesca Pine from the Crow tribe in southeast Montana.
Mike Daniels, of Nebraska’s Winnebago people, echoes the reality of altered planting times and notices that Nebraska’s corn crops are developing sooner. Less rainfall is especially felt by Jeff Daniel’s community in Oklahoma’s Osage Nation, where animal life – think of feral hogs native to the south – is moving north in search of water during record-setting summer heat waves (116-120 degrees) as well as lowest-ever freezing winters (minus 28 degrees).
In Wisconsin, Sue Menzel from the Ojibwe College also sees a movement of animals and plants into their Northwest area from the south. “We’re witnessing a competition between local fauna and flora, and the line where Lake Superior has been is moving north, by 45 miles in the last 15 years.” Amber Marlow (Lac Courte Oreilles in Wisconsin) believes that less snow and ice is shortening the spearing season and wild rice production. And several tribes have shifted the zone of their planting seasons to adapt to summers that are longer, hotter, and drier.
Yes, climate change is real. Just ask.
But here’s the rub: where do we find the facts of climate change? Where should we look? Who do we talk to? Too often we rely on bloated headlines, stuffy politicians of little credibility, and science wonks that have trouble translating the dense facts of climate change into readable discourse for the rest of us. The fact is, we need to turn to the people who everyday live the crippling effects of climate change. As I learned this week, there are many, and they are watching the world change, the environment change, one season at a time.