Source: A College of Menominee Nation production for NASA's Where Words Touch the Earth
In this video segment adapted from the College of Menominee Nation, Menominee language instructor John Teller describes the implications of climate change on the Menominee Indian Tribe, whose reservation is located in northeast Wisconsin. Teller has observed changing conditions, including snowfall that arrives later in the year. He describes how the snow and cold weather are connected both to the customs and the well-being of the Menominee Nation. Because of this, he says, the tribe must do something to protect the Earth.
The Menominee are one of the tribes of the Northeast Woodlands, and they value and cherish the forest as their home. Their presence in the Great Lakes region dates back more than 10,000 years. Today, Menominee tribal land comprises 235,000 acres in northeastern Wisconsin, about 60 miles (97 km) west of where the Menominee River empties into Green Bay and Lake Michigan. The Menominee are an ancient culture living in modern times. Through oral tradition, their customs and knowledge of how their lives are interrelated with their environment have been passed from generation to generation. In this video, Menominee Elder John Teller talks about the significance of winter to his people and how climate change is affecting Menominee land and important tribal customs. His observations correspond with scientific evidence that indicates that the Midwestern climate is indeed changing.
Climate data collected by monitoring stations throughout Wisconsin between 1950 and 2006 show that the climate of the Menominee Reservation is typical of the region. Winters are very cold with snow, while summers are moderately warm and moist. The data also reveal that the state as a whole has been growing warmer (by 1.5°F/0.8ºC) over this time, causing a seasonal shift. Winters have warmed more than any other season (2.5°F/1.4ºC). Today, northeastern Wisconsin experiences its first freeze in about the fourth week of September, some 3 to 18 days later than it used to. And its last freeze occurs in the last week of May, about 6 to 20 days earlier.
Looking ahead, projections show that Wisconsin will warm by 4°F to 9°F (2.2ºC to 5ºC) overall by the middle of this century. As temperatures increase, moisture at surface level evaporates. The air becomes more saturated so that when precipitation occurs, it falls in very large amounts. For the Menominee, this means that the date of first snowfall, which already occurs on average around November 21, will be pushed back even further, and that while heavier snowfalls may be expected, the average length of time that snow and ice last will decrease.
Climate change threatens native communities all over the world, and the effect that it’s having on the seasons is significant to beliefs of indigenous cultures. Songs, dances, and ceremonies are performed at specific times of the year to be in tune with the seasons. The sacred stories that John Teller refers to in the video would not be told on summer evenings because of the Menominee belief that certain spirits would get angry. Instead, the Menominee tell these stories during the winter, when snow blankets the ground and ice covers the water. They believe that these layers keep the spirits from below—the bad ones—from coming up and bringing harm to the people.
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