Managing landscapes since time immemorial — Indigenous view on climate solutions
WUWM has been reporting on efforts to bolster resilience and biodiversity in conjunction with NPR’s Climate Solutions series. We now turn to perspectives shared by members of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
We meet a father and daughter who are committed to carrying forward their peoples’ approach to living in balance with the land.
“Boozhoo indinawemaaganag. Anakwad nindizhinikaaz. Miskwaabikaang indoonjibaa. Migizi indoodem … Hello all my relatives. My Indian name Anakwad is Cloud and I come from the Red Cliff Reservation and my Clan is the Eagle and my English name was given at birth as Francis, and last name Montano,” he says.
Known as Frank, he was born more than 80 years ago here on the Red Cliff reservation in far northern Wisconsin. His father was a musician and instrument maker, a calling Frank would follow. But he says first came his relationship to the land and the water.
The Red Cliff reservation hugs the tip of Bayfield County, spilling onto Lake Superior with the Apostle Islands sprinkled across its glistening waters.
“I can’t really speak for all of my brothers and sisters or anybody else, except myself. All I know is that from a little boy, I felt that I had a special connection to all this,” Frank says.
Frank says maintaining that connection is critical.
“You know even in the language when you say indinawemaaganag ’all of my relatives’. All of my relatives aren’t just humans, all of my relatives is everything — the air, the rain, the clouds, the trees, the plants —they’re all related, they’re all part of creation," Frank says. “And my daughter, I think a lot of her direction that she’s going with these things.”
Frank’s daughter introduces herself, “Boozhoo, Nisogaabokwe indizhinikaaz. Miskwaabikaang indoonjibaa. Migizi indoodem. Melonee Montano. I’m a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and also of the Eagle Clan and my Ojibwe name, Nisogaabokwe, means Three Standing Women,” she says.
Melonee says being immersed in her mom and dad’s stories made her who she is today. She’s one year into a newly-created graduate program in the University of Minnesota’s forestry department.
“The tribal natural resource track, which again is a new track that allows for Indigenous knowledge to be incorporated into research and focus and work and everything,” Melonee had a voice in creating.
She says the program brings together two knowledge sets - Indigenous and western science.
Melonee is not only a graduate student, she also works for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission or GLIFWC in "The climate change program. I’m their traditional ecological knowledge outreach specialist,” she says.
There's a connection between GLIFWC and the University of Minnesota. They collaboratively research topics including chronic wasting disease and wild rice.
"So that we can have manoomin (wild rice) into the future because it's one of the most vulnerable species when it comes to climate change... The University of Minnesota and the tribes and GLIFWC and everybody is at the table together ...deciding what needs to be researched but also the approaches and how to do it," Melonee says.
In addition, Melonee is immersed in fostering the return of traditional land management. The use of fire, - called cultural by some and prescribed by others — is at its cornerstone.
"So I'm part of a large collaborative looking at the return of fire to this area in various landscapes in both from scientific approaches as well as using Indigenous knowledge. Because basically, fire is part of who we are as humans, but especially as Anishinaabe people, it's completely integrated in our culture; it's a part of just about every one of our ceremonies," Melonee says.
While researchers say time frames for prescribed fire is becoming more limited in the face of our warming climate, the practice not only reduces the risk of destructive fires, it fortifies ecosystem resilience.
Controlled fire reduces invasive shrubs and plants and promote native plants and trees, along with wildlife habitat. Melonee points to progress on one of the nearby Apostle Islands in collaboration with the National Park Service.
“And so we pushed to return fire to this area, and Stockton Island was the first one where we’re able to do it. Now fire has become a thing there where it will be done on a regular basis,” Melonee says.
Before 2017, fire had been absent from the island for a century.
Melonee says in accordance with Anishinaabe tradition the burn was preceded by special preparations. “We involved a lot of the area tribes and held a ceremony and talked about what was going to happen and let the land know that we were going to return fire with that intent and asked permission and everything,” Melonee explains.
Yes, asking permission of the land. Melonee says part of the Indigenous tradition is a balanced approach of sharing the Earth.
“(We’ve been) actively managing these landscapes around this Earth since time immemorial, I mean obviously to survive and that’s why we’re still here as people, why we still exist,” Melonee says.
Frank Montano plays a traditional native flute – another element of Red Cliff and its peoples' centuries-long connection to and care of the earth. He says his ancestors were true environmentalists.